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Study finds significant screening disruptions at FQHCs

Our NFL-funded project is helping health centers catch up.

A new study finds that the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to significant disruptions in breast, colorectal, and cervical cancer screenings among federally qualified health systems, spanning 15 states across the U.S. Among its authors is Marcie Fisher-Borne, PhD, MPH, MSW, managing director, Interventions & Implementation, for ACS. (Click here to watch Dr. Fisher-Borne talk about the study.)

The postponed screenings have created backlogs that systems will need to address as health facilities re-open for preventive care, according to the study. Data were collected in August-September 2020, and the study was also published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Of the 22 systems in the study, 11 (50%) reported stopping cancer screening completely for the cancer type specified in their application since the start of COVID-19 disruptions. One center reported never stopping screening entirely for their specified cancer types. Over half of all systems reported enforced screening service disruptions/cancellations as a result of state or local COVID-19 restrictions. 

The Cancer Screening during COVID-19 projects aim to help FQHCs resume cancer prevention services and catch up on missed cancer screenings to mitigate the impact of disruptions in care related to COVID-19 on cancer morbidity and mortality.

The study shows that when clinics were asked about service disruption, there was not one unified picture, and different clinics even within the same state described different times when experiencing peaks in disruption of screening. Half of the systems were able to maintain home-based stool sampling testing for colorectal cancer without any disruptions. The study also found that 100% of the clinics switched to telehealth visits, and 100% implemented structural changes in the office, including waiting room protocols. 

In 2020, the ACS and the National Football League (NFL) joined forces to offer a new funding opportunity called Cancer Screening during COVID-19, aimed at reducing cancer mortality disparities and alleviating the additional strain COVID-19 put on Federally Qualified Health Centers (FHQC). The NFL-funded program supports FHQCs' efforts to resume high-quality screenings for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer, catch up on missed screenings, and provide timely follow-up care. In the long-term, these projects seek to address the known disparities in cancer incidence and mortality and challenges with limited access to specialty care in under-resourced communities.

“Without purposeful intervention, pandemic-related disruptions in preventive services may widen existing cancer disparities,” the authors write. “That is why partnerships like our COVID recovery screening project are critical, and ACS is honored to work with FQHCs to get back on track with screening.

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