Closing the Gap in Screening and Treatment

for Gastrointestinal, Pulmonary Conditions

Boston Scientific assists local groups in mobilizing at-risk populations to screen for asthma and colon cancer, and educate on other diseases as part of its Close the Gap health equity program. Two successful initiatives are highlighted here. Boston Scientific’s Endoscopy business hopes to collaborate with more hospitals and community organizations in 2016.  

Kentucky Group Addresses Colon Cancer Disparities

The Colon Cancer Prevention Project began with one physician’s passion to reverse the state’s worst-in-the-nation outcomes for a 90% preventablei disease, as well as offer support for patients diagnosed with it.

In a single weekend in 2003, Louisville pancreatic physician and therapeutic endoscopist Whitney Jones, M.D., saw three patients with advanced colon cancer. They all had health insurance. They should have been screened but had never been screened. The experience moved him to action, and he hasn’t slowed down in 13 years.

Further researching the topic, he quickly discovered Kentucky’s high risk factors of smoking and obesity coupled with “dismal” screening rates led to the state’s status as a colon cancer hotspot. Jones said, “I just basically decided to do something about it.”

That led to his founding of the nonprofit Colon Cancer Prevention Project in 2004, which has since grown to be a statewide advocacy group for colon cancer screening for underserved patient populations as well as a grassroots lobbying organization. It has won hard-fought reimbursement gains, most recently in 2015 for patients who go in for diagnostic colonoscopies, only to get hit with large bills when polyps are removed and the procedures are reclassified as therapeutic.
Dr. Whitney Jones, speaking at an event on colon cancer awareness.
Dr. Whitney Jones, speaking at an event on colon cancer awareness.
Boston Scientific joined his organization’s efforts in 2014 to help increase cancer screenings, primarily among the underinsured and underserved populations. The support came under the aegis of Close the Gap, a Boston Scientific health equity initiative which aims to eliminate healthcare disparities in gastrointestinal and pulmonary disease. Boston Scientific took a customized approach in working with the Colon Cancer Prevention Project, working hand in hand with the organization’s leadership and staff to support various screening events in the Louisville area and other awareness initiatives.

Time to Talk about Colon Cancer: Removing the Taboo

Colon cancer might not make for pleasant dinner conversation, yet Dr. Jones’s group took on the task of educating Kentucky’s general population – some of which includes Appalachian and urban poor hit the hardest by the disease – as well as healthcare providers, about the importance of screening for colon cancer, an often taboo topic.

“When I speak to a room of 100 people and ask, ‘How many of you have or know someone who has colon cancer or has died from it?’ half the people raise their hands,” Jones said. So his goal became not only to raise awareness of the disease, but to get Kentuckians screened as early as possible.

To support these efforts, through grants, Boston Scientific contributed financially to a major initiative – a video documentary Catching a Killer, featuring a person from the local community getting their first screening colonoscopy. The program aired repeatedly on public television throughout the state. The company sponsored several initiatives, including a 5k race with employee volunteers, the Colon Cancer Prevention Project’s pledge program that resulted in over 600 African-Americans pledging to get screened, a new grant program that provides funding for innovative ideas to raise awareness in the region and a program for community health centers to educate physicians on screening trends as well as provide assistance to eliminate barriers to screening.

 “Dr. Jones has sparked passion in a lot of other people – he’s not okay with the status quo. He gets fired up, and he doesn’t get burnt out talking about it,” said Andrea Shepherd, executive director of the Colon Cancer Prevention Project. “Susan G. Komen got people talking about breast cancer when they just didn’t before. We’re seeing people more and more comfortable talking about colon cancer, and once you start talking about it, you see that this is such a common cancer.”

Boston Scientific sales representative in Kentucky Robert Kennedy (right) with colleagues at an event hosted by the Colon Cancer Prevention Project. Kennedy volunteered for Colon Cancer Prevention Project events during some of the organization’s earliest days. 

Making Awareness Work

The Colon Cancer Prevention Project, among other statewide public and private entities, has made a measurable difference. In 1999, Kentucky ranked 49th among U.S. states for its colorectal cancer screening rate with 34.7% of its population screened. By 2012, the state ranked 28th, with 65.9% screened.[i]  Today, Jones said, it’s around 70%, which he describes as “unbelievable” for a southern U.S. state.

“Boston Scientific shares our mission in getting people screened and fighting this disease,” Shepherd said. “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know their team over the last couple of years — every time we talk, they’re so excited about the program.”

A case study on the Kentucky Colon Cancer Prevention Project is featured in the April issue of Premier’s Economic Outlook magazine.