SOUTHBRIDG – In 2015, Harrington saw an opportunity to champion a program for smokers that could detect cancers at an earlier stage.
No one could have quite predicted the immense growth the program has achieved.
Jean Comeau, RN, is an interventional radiology nurse and the nurse navigator for Harrington HealthCare System’s Lung Cancer Screening Program, which offers CT scans to high-risk patients who fit pre-established guidelines as having a significant smoking history.
“We know from data that Southbridge (and Central Mass) has one of the highest percentages of smokers in the state,” Comeau said. “So it’s important that, as a healthcare system, as are looking at this problem as proactively as we can to improve the health of our community.”
A map by the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards indicates 25.1% of Southbridge’s total population uses tobacco products, significantly higher than most other towns in the Commonwealth.
The program guidelines, governed by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), offers the CT scan to patients who are:
- Aged 55-77;
- Current smokers or individuals who quit fewer than 15 years ago;
- Individuals with a personal history of “30-pack years” (meaning one pack per day for 30 years, two packs per day for 15 years, etc).
The screening is a 10-minute low-dose CT scan, offered at Harrington’s Southbridge or Webster campus. Harrington’s imaging team is lead by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center radiologists and join a multidisciplinary group composed of oncologists, thoracic surgeons and pulmonologists who meet regularly to review the findings and plan appropriate treatment pathways.
In its pilot year, Harrington completed 369 scans.
Comeau tracks each patient, beginning with the referral from their primary care provider or specialist, and follows up to ensure pre-authorizations are received and follow-up appointments or scans are booked.
“I want to make sure anyone who needs or wants this scan is scheduled to get one,” she said. “I will do the chasing and the paperwork if necessary. That’s part of my role as navigator.”
The program is now in its fourth year. Fiscal 2019, which ended September 30, finished with a total report of 1,280 completed scans, an increase over Fiscal 2018 by 20 percent.
“We saw a 15 percent increase in new patients, which supports our overall efforts to provide early screening for early detection and more treatable diagnoses,” Comeau says. “I think those numbers say a lot, not just about the impact we’re making on the health of our community, but on the proactive measures our patients are choosing to get this information sooner.”
The first step begins with a conversation between the patient, and his or her primary care provider or specialist. Comeau has been persistent about talking to Harrington medical providers about the program and making the referral for the scan as easy as possible.
“I received tremendous support from our senior leaders and chief medical officers because they recognize the significance of this program,” Comeau said. “Providing an open dialogue with physician offices has helped keep this screening top of mind when doctors are talking with their patients.”
The program has been so successful that Comeau has been asked to present at regional meetings and has had nurse navigators from area hospitals shadow her in hopes of replicating Harrington’s success.
Earlier in 2019, Harrington’s program received accreditation by the American College of Radiologists (ACR) and was designated a Screening Center of Excellence by the Lung Cancer Alliance for the second year in a row.
The ACR Lung Cancer Screening Center designation is a voluntary program that recognizes facilities that have committed to practice safe, effective diagnostic care for individuals at the highest risk for lung cancer. In order to receive accreditation, facilities must be accredited by the ACR in computed tomography (CT) in the chest module, as well as undergo a rigorous assessment of its lung cancer screening protocol and infrastructure. Also required are procedures in place for follow-up patient care, such as counseling and smoking cessation programs.
Lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography scans, and appropriate follow-up care, significantly reduces lung cancer deaths.
To learn more about Harrington’s program, visit harringtonhospital.org or contact Jean Comeau at (508) 765-3024.