Motivating Patients to Get Screened for Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, yet it is preventable and highly treatable when found early. Despite that, new research shows that less than two-thirds of women aged 30 to 65 and just over a half of women aged 21 to 29 were up to date with cervical cancer screenings in 2016.

So what gets in the way? For many people it’s a lack of awareness, a poor understanding of the consequences or fear of the procedure itself. Engaging people in their health is as much about the creativity as the evidence.

A 360° understanding of the patient

When asked, medical advisors and patients report a lot of confusion and fear about the Pap test. Many patients do not know what it is and why they need one, while others don’t understand what type of cancer the test screens for. Thus, the first principle of patient engagement is to understand and support the need for basic information.

Thoughtful and inclusive language about cancer screenings

Less surprisingly but maybe harder to overcome, patients are afraid of pain and of the results from the test. This means that language matters. While a clinical description as “a test that screens for both cancer and cell changes that can, over time, turned into cervical cancer” is accurate, patients tend to prefer softer language like “screening for cell changes that can lead to cancer” as it is less likely to instill fear.

The efficacy of patient engagement is also dependent on people seeing themselves in messages directed at them. In the case of cervical cancer screening, not all people needing Pap tests identify as women. Thus gender neutral and inclusive phrasing should be considered, for example explaining that “people with a cervix” need a Pap test, rather than “women need a Pap test.”

Provide more than information about Pap tests

Patients who are engaged in their health take action and manage their day-to-day needs based on specific goals, conditions or concerns, and interventions. In that regard, behavioral economics tells us that providing patients with information alone does not motivate them to act on their health in a meaningful way. This means that, to be effective, patient engagement has to be built on behavioral elements like self-determination theory and self-efficacy. So for example, instead of telling patients what to do, messages should focus on the why and on the actions that can be taken.

Crafting an empathetic conversation around cervical cancer screening

Behavioral science alone isn’t enough. The words must be combined with visuals to help cement the information. In fact, research shows that people learn more deeply from words and pictures than from words alone. This is called the cognitive theory of multimedia learning. This multimedia principle is true regardless of a person’s self-reported learning style such as a visual learner or auditory learner. They’re designed for how the human mind works.

Learn more: Watch our "Cracking the Code of Patient Engagement" webinar on-demand

No two people are alike in their needs, their life circumstances and their behavior patterns. Our newest patient engagement programs tackle topics like Cervical Cancer Screening, Congestive Heart Failure, and Nutrition — and are designed to meet people where they are.

In this webinar, Creative Director Vanessa Ruiz and Editorial Director Eve Gaus discuss behavioral design and multimedia learning principles that help drive patients into action and how we harmonize our patient engagement content with the clinical decision support content that clinicians trust.

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