Rates and Correlates of Potentially Inappropriate Colorectal Cancer Screening in the Veterans Health Administration

Adam A. Powell, Sameer D. Saini, Matthew K. Breitenstein, Siamak Noorbaloochi, Andrea H Cutting, Deborah A. Fisher, Hanna E Bloomfield, Krysten Halek, Melissa R Partin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Inappropriate use of colorectal cancer (CRC) screening procedures can inflate healthcare costs and increase medical risk. Little is known about the prevalence or causes of inappropriate CRC screening. OBJECTIVE: Our aim was to estimate the prevalence of potentially inappropriate CRC screening, and its association with patient and facility characteristics in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). DESIGN AND PARTICIPANTS: We conducted a cross-sectional study of all VHA patients aged 50 years and older who completed a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or a screening colonoscopy between 1 October 2009 and 31 December 2011 (n = 1,083,965). MAIN MEASURES: Measures included: proportion of patients whose test was classified as potentially inappropriate; associations between potentially inappropriate screening and patient demographic and health characteristics, facility complexity, CRC screening rates, dependence on FOBT, and CRC clinical reminder attributes. KEY RESULTS: Of 901,292 FOBT cases, 26.1 % were potentially inappropriate (13.9 % not due, 7.8 % limited life expectancy, 11.0 % receiving FOBT when colonoscopy was indicated). Of 134,335 screening colonoscopies, 14.2 % were potentially inappropriate (10.4 % not due, 4.4 % limited life expectancy). Each additional 10 years of patient age was associated with an increased likelihood of undergoing potentially inappropriate screening (ORs = 1.60 to 1.83 depending on screening mode). Compared to facilities scoring in the bottom third on a measure of reliance on FOBT (versus screening colonoscopy), facilities scoring in the top third were less likely to conduct potentially inappropriate FOBTs (OR = 0.,78) but more likely to conduct potentially inappropriate colonoscopies (OR = 2.20). Potentially inappropriate colonoscopies were less likely to be conducted at facilities where primary care providers were assigned partial responsibility (OR = 0.74) or full responsibility (OR = 0.73) for completing the CRC clinical reminder. CONCLUSIONS: A substantial number of VHA CRC screening tests are potentially inappropriate. Establishing processes that enforce appropriate screening intervals, triage patients with limited life expectancies, and discourage the use of FOBTs when a colonoscopy is indicated may reduce inappropriate testing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)732-741
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 26 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank Agnes Jensen (Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, Minneapolis VA Health Care System) for her work conducting manual chart reviews. Research reported in this publication was supported by a Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Career Development Award, CDA 08–024, granted to Dr. Powell, by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R03CA166719, and by a Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Research Career Scientist Award, RCS 10–185, granted to Dr. Partin. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the National Institutes of Health. Study sponsors did not contribute to the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; or decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Society of General Internal Medicine.


  • Veterans
  • colorectal cancer
  • practice variation
  • screening
  • utilization


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