Premier Launches Screening Campaign

The biggest physician practice in western Pennsylvania is launching a campaign to improve patient screening for colon cancer.

Monroeville-based Premier Medical Associates plans to increase screening to 80 percent from 63 percent now over the next 18 months, said internist Dr. James Costlow. The screening rate nationally averages about 50 percent.

If successful, Premier’s campaign could result in some of the highest screening rates in the country, according to Dr. Richard Wender, president and CEO of JeffCare, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals' physician-hospital organization in Philadelphia.

“You don’t get better if you don’t make a commitment,” said Wender, whose academic career has focused on cancer prevention and screening. “That’s not going to happen.”

Wender, a Squirrel Hill native, met with Premier doctors on Thursday to discuss strategies for increasing screening rates among patients. Colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths nationwide, was expected to kill 51,690 people this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Cure rates are highest when the cancer is caught early, Wender said.

Regular colonoscopy and fecal occult blood tests are the most popular screening methods, and Wender praised the occult blood test Premier uses, which Wender said was “one of the best products in the country.”

The test kit is made by Cortlandt Manor, New York-based Polymedco Cancer Diagnostic Products LLC.

Premier was acquired by health insurer Highmark Inc. in February as part of the company’s planned integrated health care network. The practice has 86 doctors and plans to add more doctors in 2013.