Community-Based Screening Programs for Chronic Conditions Show Positive Benefits, Study Finds

Innovative screening programs outside the formal healthcare setting for chronic conditions- like diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol- are increasingly popular but the effects and added value have been hard to quantify.

A recent study shows these programs may cause changes in participants’ care seeking behavior. Researchers Rebecca Myerson, Lisandro Colantonio, Monika Safford, and Elbert Huang found that Medicare beneficiaries whose biomarker assessments indicated undiagnosed high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes increased semi-annual doctor visits for these conditions by 22 percentage points two years after assessment. The results were published in Health Services Research.

“Screening outside the formal healthcare setting is exciting as an outreach tool for the same reason its impact is so uncertain,” said Rebecca Myerson, the lead author on the study. “It can reach patients with unmet health care needs who don’t regularly see a doctor. Our question was whether these patients would circle back to the formal health care system and seek care from a doctor if their biomarker assessment showed abnormal results.”

Myerson, who is an assistant professor at the USC School of Pharmacy and the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics, worked with colleagues to address this question by seeking data from a unique epidemiologic study merged with Medicare data. This unique dataset permitted analysis of how health care seeking behavior changes as a result of the new information the participants were given about their biomarkers.

In comparison to the change in behavior for previously undiagnosed conditions, doctor visits for previously diagnosed conditions did not change. This provides evidence that patients changed their health care seeking behaviors only when the assessment taught them about abnormal biomarkers of which they were previously unaware. Read more at the USC Schaeffer Center web site,