An Uncomfortable Truth: Screening for Colorectal Cancer Can Prevent a Deadly Disease

March is coming to a close, and with it, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. But when the clock strikes midnight on the 31st, we shouldn’t lose sight of the devastation that colorectal cancer can cause. A new story from the Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy explores Kaiser Permanente’s journey towards improving screening rates, and outlines what it will take for the nation to do the same.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in America and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths, with an estimated 49,700 Americans who may lose their lives to the disease in 2015. The good news is that it is highly treatable if caught early; up to 80 percent of deaths can be prevented if everyone over 50 receives a recommended screening. The bad news is that many people — about a third of all Americans and even more in certain racial or ethnic groups, such as Latinos — still aren’t getting screened.

Over the past 10 years, Kaiser Permanente has been leading the charge to improve colorectal cancer screening rates and reduce deaths due to the disease. By reminding people to get screened at every point of care, improving access to the Fecal Immunochemical Test (an easy, home-based colorectal cancer test) and focusing on disparities, Kaiser Permanente has nearly doubled screening rates — from 43 percent in 2004 to 82 percent in 2013.

If you are over 50 or at risk of colorectal cancer, please remember to get screened. And check out the Institute for Health Policy story for more information.

Green is the New Gold Standard for Total Health

Solar Panels, Kaiser Permanante Santa Clara

Solar Panels, Kaiser Permanante Santa Clara

Environmental health and the health of individuals and communities are strongly connected. As a health care provider, Kaiser Permanente feels a special responsibility to address the impacts of climate change on health and to reduce pollutants that can lead to disease. It’s all part of how we look at the total health of people and communities, considering all of the factors that influence their health outside of the doctor’s office.

That definition for total health became richer with the recent announcement that Kaiser Permanente was joining the august ranks of Apple, Google, and other large, environmentally-conscious companies that choose to be leaders in the green energy arena.

KP_SustainableEnergy_BrochureKaiser Permanente announced last month that we completed several agreements to purchase enough renewable energy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent nationwide by the beginning of 2017. These agreements mean that about 50 percent of the electricity used at our facilities in California will come from renewable energy sources.

The health care sector is poised, perhaps better than most, to plug in to the conversation about the health impacts of climate change and help direct the next stages of climate action. The health care industry carries a considerable environmental footprint, and Kaiser Permanente is partnering with Health Care Without Harm and the Business Renewables Center, launched recently by nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, to help not only the health care industry, but the entire U.S. business sector, move toward more abundant clean energy solutions.

“Climate change isn’t a distant threat,” said Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser Permanente’s environmental stewardship
officer. “The health impacts of a changing climate can be felt today in the form of increasing rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments, spread of infectious diseases, heat stress, and injuries from severe weather events. By addressing climate change for the future, we are improving the health of communities today.”

Purchasing renewable energy supports KP’s core mission of total health, and it also makes good business sense.

“We expect this energy purchase to be cost neutral over the term of the contracts,” said Ramé Hemstreet, Kaiser Permanente’s chief energy officer. “By locking in rates, we can better forecast energy costs, and by using diverse fuel sources, we can protect our business from escalating and volatile energy prices. That’s great news for our members.”

So, the next time you see or visit a Kaiser Permanente facility, rest assured that green energy is making a major contribution to powering our facilities, addressing climate change and improving the total health of our members and communities.

More details of this announcement are captured in the infographic, video, and press release on Kaiser Permanente’s Share website.

How’s Your Gut?

With March being Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a good time for each of us to pause and consider the health of our digestive system.

“All About Our Guts,” one of the most popular episodes in the Total Health Radio series, helps with that. Expert guest T.R. Levin, MD, a gastroenterologist with Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, covers all the topics you’re wondering about: Irritable Bowel Syndrome, the potential benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet, why fiber is so important — even colonoscopies (and how to help encourage the one you love to go ahead and have that procedure done).

Here is exclusive bonus content.

Still want more? Check out the episode’s official page. And you can hear Dr. Levin talk about the FIT test – a non-invasive screening for colorectal cancer you can do in the privacy of your own home – in this video.

One of the Deadliest Cancers: Is Someone You Love at Risk?

Did you know that the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women combined is colorectal cancer? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 140,000 people are diagnosed with it each year, and more than 50,000 die from it. Those are some sobering statistics.

The good news? This type of cancer is highly preventable, mainly due to screenings — starting at age 50 — that can often find precancerous polyps and early-stage cancer. Early diagnosis allows treatment to be most effective.

We can each further reduce our risk by staying physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, drinking alcohol in moderation, and not smoking.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and if you are looking for ways to get the word out and encourage screenings among friends and loved ones, Healthfinder.gov has a great toolkit. Web resources and sample communications are available, as well as a quiz that assesses your risk of developing colorectal cancer and a calculator that helps identify how much fiber you should consume each day.

For a first-hand account of how an at-home screening test (yes, they are available!) saved one woman’s life, check out this video from Kaiser Permanente’s Care Stories site.

A Visit from George Washington University Nursing Students

Last week, the Center for Total Health — along with Lu Casa, MSN, CRNP, CTTS — welcomed accelerated students from George Washington University School of Nursing (@gwNURSING). As always, we enjoyed hosting the future leaders of health, and hearing their ideas and questions about health care delivery. You can read more about the visit here.

GWU Nursing Students visit the CTH.

GWU Nursing Students visit the CTH

To see more pictures of their visit, click here.

What Exactly IS the Trail Modeling & Assessment Platform, and Why Do We Care?

Our guest blogger today is Tracy Hadden Loh with the Rails to Trails Conservancy.

Tracy Hadden Loh (right) and colleague with the pedestrian counter outside the CTH.

Tracy Hadden Loh (right) and colleague with the pedestrian counter outside the CTH. The counter was installed on one of the coldest days of this winter (high of 10 degrees!).

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a national membership-based nonprofit dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people. We serve as the national voice for more than 160,000 members/supporters, 30,000 miles of rail and multi-use trails, and over 8,000 miles of potential trail. When RTC was founded in 1986, there were less than 250 miles of rail-trail in the United States. Today, there are more than 21,000 miles of trails of serving some tens of millions of people each year.

However, that mileage number is about all we’ve measured with any precision. We don’t actually know how many people in the United States use trails each year. We know that these miles of trail are a great way to create healthier places and healthier people – for example, a recent meta-analysis of published research on the cost-effectiveness of population-level interventions to promote physical activity found that a rail-trail was the #1 most effective intervention. On the basis of similar evidence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize trails as a proven strategy that works to increase physical activity, reduce risk of chronic disease, and improve mental health and wellness. So we know we’re on to something good – but how good? When it comes time to make room for trails in the budget, can we show a dollars-and-cents return on investment?

To that end, RTC has launched the Trail Modeling and Assessment Platform (T-MAP), a three-year research initiative to measure, model, and value trail use in the United States. The first phase of this project involves establishing a national network of trail traffic monitoring stations, so that we can continuously measure trail use across the different climactic zones of the US. We’ll use these data to develop two tools: a trail use demand forecasting model to estimate traffic volumes on existing trails or predict volumes on future trails; and a health impact assessment calculator for estimating health care costs avoided due to physical activity on trails.

Taken literally, RTC’s focus on “health” means that there are times when our mission overlaps with that of hospitals and health care systems. Under the Affordable Care Act, non-profit hospitals are now faced with a requirement to assess the health needs of the community, and based on that assessment draw up an implementation plan. We see that as an opportunity to make the case for trails!

Our partners at the Kaiser Permanante Center for Total Health already get it. Located in the heart of downtown Washington, DC right on the Metropolitan Branch Trail, the CTH is helping us implement T-MAP through the installation and maintenance of their very own trail traffic monitoring station, contributing critical data to the project from a unique trail location that is co-located with an urban sidewalk, and dominated by pedestrians. As they learn about how the trail relates to their facility, we’re learning about the trail and collecting the data necessary to accurately estimate the true magnitude of trail use in the United States, and what it’s worth.

 

Data from the CTH Pedestrian Counter

Data from the CTH Pedestrian Counter | February 15, 2015

Total Health Questionnaire: Madeline Morales

Maddie is the FoodCorps fellow for Washington DC. She is excited to be supporting 13 fabulous service members in our nation’s capital to build upon the work being done to close the gaps between children, food, and healthy happy lives!

Q: What does Total Health mean to you?

Maddie Morales

Maddie Morales

A: Total Health means a lifestyle where I am happy and feel capable enough to do the things I want!

Q: What is your first health-related memory?
A: 
Jump Rope for Heart was probably the highlight of my grade school gym events. We had an assembly every year where we got to jump rope in the gym and learn fancy tricks!

Q: Which person, living or dead, is your health hero or role model?
A: My dad. He is an amazing role model of how to be truly strong both mentally and physically. He is supportive of everyone’s health and fitness, no matter what level. He has an amazing balance of fitness in his life and is always doing big things! Someday we are going to bike across the US!

Q: What is your favorite food?
A: Sweet potatoes!

Q: If you could change one thing in health care, what would it be?
A: A focus on prevention and establishing healthy lifestyles!

Q: In your opinion, what is the most underrated way to improve health for individuals?
A: A balanced diet.

Q: Where would you most like to live?
A: Somewhere by the water and my parents.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement so far?
A: Making amazing friends and having a supportive network of people that I can surround myself with and lean on everyday.

Q: If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would you pick?
A: Audrey Hepburn, Michele Obama and my grandma.

Read more about Food Corps DC here.

American Heart Month is Here — How’s Yours?

Here’s an important question: How is your heart?

How about that of your significant other?  Your mom’s and your dad’s?  Your best friend’s?

February is American Heart Month, and considering heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States — causing one in four deaths each year — it’s a topic worth our attention.

Luckily, there’s plenty of great information available on heart health, including this episode of Total Health Radio:  “How’s Your Heart? Understanding Your Risk.”

Looking for more information on how to show your heart some love? Check out this piece on Five Easy Steps for Taking Care of Your Heart. Or this infographic illustrating five ways to be both sweet and healthy on Valentine’s Day.

And finally, if you are looking for ways to promote heart health in your own workplace or organization, healthfinder.gov’s American Heart Month toolkit may be just what you need.

Let’s take care of our hearts — not just on Valentine’s Day, but all year long.

You Too Can Have Healthy Meetings!

Panel discussion featuring, from left:  Kathy Gerwig, Marilyn Chow, Kelly Kearney, and Erin Meade.

Panel discussion featuring, from left: Kathy Gerwig, Marilyn Chow, Kelly Kearney, and Erin Meade.

On Monday, February 2nd, our friends at Kaiser Permanante’s Garfield Innovation Center hosted a great event focusing on delicious, healthy food. “A Taste of the Garfield Center” featured local Bay Area caterers to showcase menus that adhere to Kaiser Permanente’s “Healthy Picks” policy, along with a few presentations on healthy meeting and working practices.

I was certainly humbled to be on a panel with Kathy Gerwig, Marilyn Chow, both of Kaiser Permanente, and Kelly Kearney of Pacific Fine Foods (a favorite at the Garfield Center) – three incredible women. I was inspired that 100 Kaiser Permanente employees made time in their busy schedules to attend the event so that they could go back to the office with a better understanding of healthy picks to share with their teams. The audience included administrative assistants, lawyers, nurses, designers; many expressed trepidation about trying to change habits from their relatively junior positions. “After all,” said one assistant, “we aren’t all vice presidents.” Marilyn’s answer – sincere, honest, and inspiring – was simply, “We all lead from where we are.”

Kelly and the Pacific Fine Foods Team (showing off their VERY delicious kale chips)

Kelly and the Pacific Fine Foods Team

The Center for Total Health was one of the earliest adapters of the Healthy Picks guidelines, about a year ahead of schedule. As a team, we love helping our guests explore healthy AND delicious menus (ideally paired with some physical activity) for their meetings and events, and we are lucky to get to work with colleagues from inside and outside of the organization.

Now, I’m going to challenge YOU to make your next meeting healthier! Here are some tips and tools to help you start:

1. Get agreement for the concept of healthy meetings as a concept before introducing it for a specific meeting. Then hold people to it (especially the boss and other leaders).
2. Ease in! You don’t have to do a 180 degree change overnight. Try making healthy substitutions (lowfat yogurt, leaner meats, more fruits and vegetables) to start.
3. Healthy food can be tasty and fun – look for menu items with herbs and spices instead of sauces, and consider interactive options like a build your own salad bar to get people engaged in (and excited about) what they’re eating. Bonus: no one can complain about what’s in their salad!
4. If you’re ordering from a large chain, they are legally required to provide nutrition information on their menus. Use it! If you aren’t sure what is best, try consulting the USDA’s Healthy Plate guidelines or Kaiser Permanante’s own Healthy Picks guidelines. You might also like our Healthy Meetings Essentials toolkit, which has information about menus, activity, sustainability and more!

We’d love to hear more suggestions from you, and let us know if you’re working on making your meetings (or work environment) healthier!

It’s not too late to get your flu vaccine

Have you had the flu yet this season?  More importantly, have you received the flu vaccine?  If not, you might want to.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February sees a surprisingly high number of flu occurrences.  So while many people think flu season has long passed, the truth is the vaccine may yet keep you healthy.

This episode of Total Health Radio, produced with the CDC, shares more information on  the topic and addresses misunderstandings and excuses about the vaccine that keep so many folks from getting their flu shots.  Check it out, and spread the word to the people you care about.

 

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