Brian Dooreck, MD, of Gastrointestinal Diagnostic Centers in Pembroke Pines, Fla., has diagnosed colorectal cancer hundreds of times during his 15 years in practice. During conversations with patients, he discusses CT scans, lab test results, and scheduling time with oncologists, and then he sends the patient home. Last spring, he realized something important is often left out of these conversations: guidance on where patients can find reliable information and moral support. He began formulating a plan to fill this gap.
In early September, Dooreck joined a Zoom call with representatives from five CRC organizations to pitch his idea: the Colorectal Cancer Provider Outreach Program, a text message system to connect patients to these organizations and the free services they provide patients. The organizations immediately wanted to be part of the effort, which launched in October.
Now, when gastroenterologists diagnose CRC, they can instruct their patient to text “COLON” to 484848. Within minutes, the patient will receive a message: “You are not alone. You have our support. Here. Now.”
The message includes a link to a page that lists the services, phone numbers and web addresses of the five organizations: the American Cancer Society, Colorectal Cancer Alliance, Fight Colorectal Cancer, Colon Cancer Coalition and Colon Cancer Foundation.
“I think it’s a very smart idea to be able to help patients at a time when they’re confused, scared and unsure of what’s going to happen,” Scott Ketover, MD, the president and CEO of MNGI Digestive Health, in Minneapolis, told Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News.
Each organization in the program offers a distinct set of services, ranging from financial assistance to advice on managing treatment side effects. Patients can choose the organization that best suits their needs. For instance, the Colon Cancer Foundation specializes in early-onset cancer, according to Cindy Borassi, the foundation’s interim president. Its specialists can advise young, recently diagnosed patients on fertility, genetics and testing for biomarkers to maximize treatment, she said.
The American Cancer Society, which is the program’s lead organization, maintains a phone line with cancer specialists available to talk at any time of the day. Patients who call can receive reliable information and resources to help them survive and maintain the highest quality of life possible, according to Megan Wessel, MPH, the organization’s vice president of regional cancer control. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they often don’t have the luxury of time to work through everything on their own, Wessel said. “Support, guidance and information can be lifesaving,” she said.
“The vast majority of our patients use text messaging in all aspects of their life,” said Shivan Mehta, MD, MBA, a gastroenterologist and the associate chief innovation officer at Penn Medicine, in Philadelphia. “To try to think about ways to bring cancer navigation to them through a modality that they're familiar with certainly seems like it would make a lot of sense.”
Informing a patient of their cancer diagnosis is difficult, and it can be even more difficult with CRC, according to Dooreck. Unlike other cancer diagnoses that doctors arrive at through a lengthy investigation, with CRC a person may walk in for a routine screening and leave with a diagnosis.
By using the text message system, physicians can provide a jumping-off point for patients to explore information about their diagnosis on their own time. Doctors can also share the resources through an electronic health record order so they are included in a patient’s discharge summary. “This is very simple,” Dooreck said. “It's very easy, it's very effective, and it's very free.”