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Mar 2, 2020

Dr. Pennell and Dr. Lisa Lowenstein discuss decision coaching in the LDCT setting and how it provides an opportunity for patients to confirm their screening decision by ensuring they are truly informed.


Hello and welcome to the latest JCO Oncology Practice podcast, brought to you by the ASCO Podcast Network, a collection of nine programs, covering a range of educational and scientific content, and offering enriching insight into the world of cancer care. You can find all recordings, including this one, at My name is Dr. Nate Pennell, medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic and consultant editor for the JCO OP.


Lung cancer is a huge public health issue. It's our number one cause of cancer-related mortality, and a big reason for that is the lack of a widespread screening tool which results in most of our patients ending up with advanced disease at diagnosis. Although, low-dose CT screening has been proven to reduce deaths from lung cancer for a number of years now, uptake among eligible patients in the United States is very low, well under 10%. Part of the problem may be a poor understanding of the risks and benefits of screening CT, despite broad recommendations for shared decision-making between providers and patients.


Why is uptake such a big problem, and can shared decision-making be improved to help increase screening rates? With me today to discuss this issue is Dr. Lisa Lowenstein, assistant professor in the Department of Health Services Research at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. We'll be discussing her paper, Implementing Decision Coaching for Lung Cancer Screening in the Low-Dose CT Setting, to be published in the February 2020 JCO OP. Welcome, Dr. Lowenstein, and thank you for joining me today.


Thank you. It's wonderful to be on.


So can we start out by telling our listeners a little bit about the landscape of screening for lung cancer today and the role that shared decision-making plays in this process?


Yes. I think we're in a very exciting time in terms of lung cancer screening, because this is the first time that we have a screening test for lung cancer which is the number one cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States. It's really notable that CMS included shared decision-making in their policies for lung cancer screening, because they recognize that, unlike breast cancer and colon cancer screening, we're changing the game a lot of bit here. So we're saying that only high-risk individuals should be screened. So it's not all-comers, and I think telling people about the potential benefits and harms is beneficial. So they go in being a little bit more informed about what the next steps will be, and it is a complex process, and overall, it's still in its infancy.


Yeah. I think a lot of people found it interesting that, in order to reimburse for lung cancer screening, that CMS required this documented shared decision-making visit which on the surface seems like a very reasonable thing. But do you think that's really helping, or is it hurting?


Lung cancer screening is really in its infancy, and it's a complicated process. So we're not just talking about you just show up, and you show up for a scan. Right? We're not where breast cancer screening is. We don't have mobile scans out there. It's taken decades for those programs to get where they are, and I think shared decision-making is just adding one more step and just emphasizing that it's really a program that you're committing to.


And the other aspect is that we really want to highlight that it's not lung cancer screening is enough to prevent lung cancer. Right? It's just detecting it, if you have it. But the best way you can reduce your lung cancer risk is by not smoking, and I think by inserting the counseling and shared decision-making visit, we're reiterating that message to our high-risk smokers and former smokers. Primary care providers, or any providers, aren't even talking about lung cancer screening.


Two, not a lot of facilities may be listed in the American College of Radiology Lung Cancer Screening registry, but their volumes are very low, and they may not actually have the proper equipment or machines to conduct the lung cancer screening. Third is that, if there is to be something to be found on the scan, we don't have processes in place to deal with all the abnormal findings. So I think those are all the things that providers and networks are trying to figure out, and they're trying to figure out like the cost benefit from the reimbursement issue. Because CMS reimburses this scan for a very low cost, and it's lower than what's reimbursed for breast cancer screening.


That's interesting, and in your paper, you mention that, as of right now, something around 6% of eligible patients are getting screened for lung cancer. Which is disappointing, because the studies have been out for a while now. You mention about some of the institutional issues and awareness and providers. Are there any other reasons out there that are limiting this? Because this is something that should be saving lots of lives, and so far, it just seems like it's not making much impact.


I think so, and I think it's misguided in some sense. The reimbursement is not-- you don't have to submit a reimbursement for the counseling and the lung cancer screening. A screening facility can still be reimbursed for the scan without the 1 to 1 ratio of a counseling in shared decision-making billing code, if that make sense.


That's interesting. I didn't know that.


Yeah. So the reimbursement is definitely not going on 1 to 1. I just think, it's a complicated process, and if you were doing a study in Texas and we're serving as many screening facilities as they can in Texas, and I can tell you, a number of them are not doing a high volume of scans. And a lot of primary care providers are trying to find screening facilities that are doing low-dose CT, and it's really hard to navigate the American College of Radiology Lung Cancer screening facility to find a facility. It's about 15 to 20 clinics or something like that.




So we tried to look for it on a number of occasions, and it takes us multiple tries every single time.


Well, it's obviously a complex issue, and there's more than one reason for the low uptake. What was the specific issue that led you to do this particular study, and do you think that improving shared decision-making can improve uptake on lung cancer screening?


I think the main issue that we were trying to address here is that, one, we recognize that primary care providers may not be the best-suited individuals to provide the counseling shared decision-making visit. Instead, they may just want to do more of a referral process, like what they're doing in the Cleveland Clinic. Right? Where they say, somebody's potentially eligible, so I'm going to send you to a one-stop shop type of setting. And our radiologists who are leading our lung cancer screening program really wanted to start building this and test it out as an alternative delivery model for the counseling shared decision-making visit which wasn't proposed by CMS or the task force recommendations.


So can you take us through your study design?


Sure. So it was really a pre/post kind of study, really with a quality improvement mindset, as well as using some elements of implementation science, so we can make it relevant more generalizable in our findings. But we first had our period of where they just did what they normally do, where the patients show up. They go and have their scan. They have their normal intake process, and that's it for the lung cancer screening. Then, in our post, we embedded a tablet interactive decision aid, decision coaching module.


So what happens is the patient has the iPad in hand, and they have some patient-facing education talking about the benefits and harms. It's very fast and quick. Patient can get through it and two to three minutes, five minutes if they're not tech savvy. And then we have an advanced practice provider sort of talk about what do they know about the benefits of lung cancer screening? What did they know about the harms, and what are their primary reasons for wanting to be screened, just to kind of confirm their issue, confirm their decision to be screened.


And so what did you end up finding with the intervention?


What they found is that, one, with the decision coaching aspect of it, the advanced practice providers can deliver all the key elements that are required for the counseling and shared decision-making to defer CMS reimbursement. So I think that's really important, in the sense that so much of what we already see in the literature, providers talk a lot about the benefits of screening, but they don't note any potential harms. And it's really important to notice that screening is not without its downsides, and that with an abnormal finding, there is inherent risk. It's not like you're just getting a picture taken. There are steps that need to be followed afterwards.


And the other thing is that what we really like and what our clinical operations people appreciated is the fact that this embedding entire new process did not increase the throughput time for the time that the patient checks in to the time that that patient checks out. Because every institution is paying a lot of attention in money, as to what is throughput time and making sure that it's not too long. And from a patient's anecdotal evidence, the patients appreciated that additional process, because it broke up the time between the waiting periods in between each step.


Yeah. I think that's an incredibly important point that you point out, that they didn't really increase the visit time, but how did that work? The intervention took place during a time that they'd normally be waiting or doing something else?


That's basically what it is, because we did time-motion studies in the pre and in the post. So we followed patients from the time they checked into the time they checked out, and we cataloged what they were doing. And what we saw when we looked at that data in more granular level is that the time was shifted from waiting periods to active time.


That's great. That's really important that you were able to show that. I thought it was interesting that you commented in your paper about the different elements of the shared decision-making visit. That in fact, what we might think of as the primary reason for doing it, which was the element of reducing mortality or their chance of dying of lung cancer, was actually the least important part of the shared decision-making visit. Why do you think that was?


I don't know if it was the least important part. It's just that we had some slides dedicated to it for the decision coaching, but there are so many more harms to talk about, and it's also an artifact of the context to where this intervention took place. So we took it, we were dealing with patients who had already been scheduled to be screened. So we were just confirming their decision, and I think the advanced practice providers knew that. So they might have glossed over the benefit, because otherwise, the patients wouldn't be there, if they didn't value the screen.


Mm-hmm. I guess that makes sense. They knew why they were there. Is there a next planned follow-up study for this?


Good, I'm glad you asked that. So using this data, we're testing this more centralized model and using it in a different setting. So now, we're taking this into a quit line setting. So we have a Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, grant that's looking at the decision coaching being delivered by tobacco treatment specialists via phone.


So a primary care provider identifies patients with upcoming appointments that might be eligible based upon age and being a current smoker. And then they get contacted with our quit line folks, here at Anderson, and we deliver the counseling and share decision-making visit, in addition to the cessation, and we give a report back to the BCP. And well, we're hoping that increases individuals to get screened and also have proper follow up, if there is something abnormal on the scan.


So I'm curious if you have any other suggestions outside of your program of ways we might improve the uptake of lung cancer screening in the US.


Oh, I think we could do a number of things. So I think we have to think about each step of the pathway. Right? So one, we have to increase awareness of it. So that's through social media, social marketing, that kind of stuff for both patients and providers and caregivers.


Then, two, we need multiple avenues, where we talk about lung cancer screening, like how we do with breast cancer and colon cancer. Like at church, at your beauty parlor, at your grocery store, and have those kind of public health interventions to get out the information. And three, we really need to train up our health care workforce and help programs. Where it's possible to either have the PCP do it in a robust manner or have a more linked program, where they can refer to a centralized program. Where the counseling and shared decision-making visit can be delivered by their pulmonology or in the radiology scan, and the patient can get scanned that day.


So I think there's a lot of different questions and different delivery models that can be asked, and this is a great area to be working in right now. Because with the release of the Nelson study, it's even more exciting to show that lung cancer screening can be very beneficial, and with using the lung rads, the false positives are much lower. So I'm pretty excited, and I think there's so much opportunity, and we can learn so much from what we're doing in breast cancer and colorectal cancer screening.


No, I completely agree with you. I think it's very exciting that the Nelson study was finally just published, and so hopefully, this will overcome any residual skepticism about the benefits of lung cancer screening. And obviously, continuing to improve on the screening tools themselves, maybe using some kind of companion diagnostic, maybe blood or breath-related, that might improve the-- or using artificial intelligence to better tell benign from malignant nodules. Ways that you can reduce the false positive rates would be very helpful. Well, Dr. Lowenstein, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today.


Thank you. It's a pleasure.


Until next time, thank you all for listening to this JCO Oncology Practice podcast. If you enjoyed what you heard today, don't forget to give us a rating or a review on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you listen. While you're there, be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode.


JCO OP's podcasts are just one of ASCO's many podcast programs. You can find all recordings at The full text of the paper will be available online at, in February, 2020. This is Dr. Nate Pennell for JCO Oncology Practice signing off.