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Four Things Health Execs Need to Know about Increasing Cancer Awareness Efforts


Here are ways healthcare execs can increase cancer awareness efforts.

Breast cancer ribbon

Screen patients where they live. That’s advice from Kate Sweeney, RN, director of patient support services at Milwaukee-based Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Clinical Cancer Center.

Community outreach is important, and cancer screenings are a vital part of that, says Sweeney. “We really need to try to move our screening and education to be working in tandem. And to make sure that, as part of that, we’re linking people into primary care.”

For example, a woman needs access to a primary care provider to remind her to get a mammogram when she turns 45, adds Sweeney.

She points to significant health disparities in Milwaukee with regard to cancer outcomes for patients. That’s why Sweeney and her team target these areas-and they hold screening and awareness events in the community.

At cancer screening events, her team also provides navigators to help patients apply for insurance or access care for free or on a sliding scale based on their income.

Here are three more ways healthcare execs can increase cancer awareness efforts:

Build trust

Building trust is important. Many of the patients Sweeney meets at cancer awareness and screening events don’t trust healthcare institutions. That’s why it’s important to partner with community organizations, such as churches.

Selecting the right team members also helps to build trust. “We really put people in these roles [at screening events] who are a part of the communities being served so that there’s some automatic, easier trust-building there,” she says.

Maintaining an ongoing presence at community events also matters. A woman at one of Froedtert’s cancer screening events told Sweeney that she trusted her team because she’d heard them speak at two events.

Related article: Around-the-Clock Cancer Care Reduces Emergency Room Use

That ongoing engagement made a difference in this patient’s life. “We were able to get her hooked into care,” says Sweeney. “She ended up having a cancer diagnosis. We were able to make a huge difference for her. And she’s probably someone who would not have sought care until it was urgent.”

Froedtert also partners with senior centers, senior housing facilities, and local corrections facilities to capture former inmates just as they’re leaving the system; that’s in addition to outreach at homeless shelters.

Secure media sponsorship

Montefiore Medical Center is located in the Bronx, which has a large Spanish-speaking population. To reach community members for its breast cancer screening event in February, the healthcare system partnered with Univision New York, a Spanish language TV and radio platform, to raise awareness.

According to a Montefiore spokesperson, the event was promoted on social media and on English- and Spanish-language radio stations. The event, which was called “Amate a Ti Misma/Love Yourself,” was also promoted by Univision in a public service announcement featuring two of its New York reporters.

Working with a media partner is a way to connect with members of the community who aren’t aware of Montefiore’s cancer screening events, says Elaine Matos, FNP, who works with breast cancer patients. These are often patients who are uninsured and need mammograms, she adds.

The health system also helps patients sign up for insurance. Often, that’s Medicaid, says Matos.

Approximately 40 patients were screened at the February event, which took place on the health system’s campus.

Leverage celebrities’ cancer journeys

In 2013, actress Angelina Jolie wrote in the New York Times that she had undergone a double mastectomy. She made this decision after learning she had a gene mutation that increased her chances of getting breast and ovarian cancer.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital revealed in a BMJ article that testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes increased by 64% in the 15 days after Jolie’s article was published when compared with the 15 days before the actress’ article was published.

Ben Stiller, who talked publicly about his experience with prostate cancer testing, also helped to increase awareness, says John Sweetenham, MD, executive medical director and senior director of medical affairs at University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Center Institute in Salt Lake City.

Stiller going public about his cancer journey led to a big spike in numbers of people who got colonoscopies, says Sweetenham.

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