Nov. 12 (UPI) -- The most effective way for doctors to motivate patients to get overdue cancer screenings is to call them, not send them letters, according to a new study.
Researchers in Canada published the findings this month in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
"Though phone calls were decidedly most effective among women and men, our path forward was not clear-cut," Tara Kiran, a scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute and doctor at St. Michael's Hospital, said in a press release. "The phone calls were twice as expensive because of the time it took staff to reach out to patients."
A team led by Kiran studied the cancer screening rates of more than 5,200 patients who received either a phone call or a letter reminding them of their overdue cancer screening. Of the participants, 41 percent of women and 29 percent of men called came in for screenings, versus 33 percent of women and 25 percent of men who received a letter.
"Previous evidence has shown us that patient outreach improves cancer screening rates," Kiran said. "But it was unclear which methods were most effective in primary care."
The study focused on women 21 and older who hadn't received Pap tests in three years and were overdue for cervical cancer screening, women who were 50 and older with no mammogram in the last two years and were overdue for breast cancer screening, and men and women over the age of 50 who had not had a Fecal Occult Blood Test in the last two years or a colonoscopy in the last 10 years and were overdue for colorectal cancer screening.
The team focused on poor communities in Toronto, where cancer screening rates are the lowest in the city. The researchers say they will continue to both call and send out letters to people in these communities as reminders.
"We are leading the way when it comes to measuring and improving the quality of the primary care we provide," Kiran said. "This new study sheds further light on how we can continue to do that."