Re: “COVID put thousands of procedures in WA on hold, frustrating patients and worrying surgeons” [Feb. 15, Local News]:

I was saddened to read the report on COVID-19-related medical procedure delays in Washington state, especially of colonoscopies, which detect colorectal cancer at an early, treatable stage. Survivability decreases dramatically with late-stage diagnosis.

When I was working at Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775 Benefits Group in 2019, staff identified a discrepancy between the insured population of home-care workers and Kaiser Permanente’s book of business for colorectal cancer screenings. We asked caregivers why they weren’t getting screenings (which are fully covered). Caregivers cited the great difficulty of taking time away from the care of vulnerable clients to undergo prep, travel time and the procedure, plus recovery.

In response, we partnered with Kaiser to send fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kits (with instructions translated into the recipient’s preferred language) to caregivers so they could collect a stool sample at home. An impressive 46% of caregivers returned their FIT kits; the 4% of those with positive tests were contacted and scheduled for colonoscopy.

As Washington’s patients wait for the health system to catch up following two pandemic years, a simple at-home test offers an out-of-the-hospital solution where those with abnormal results can be prioritized for timely colonoscopy.

Leslie E. Phillips, Ph.D., epidemiologist, Seattle