Patients 9-18 years old are three times more likely to start the series of HPV shots if their health provider receives electronic prompts during office appointments, and 10 times more likely to complete the series than if they do not. Patients 19-26 years old are six times more likely to start the series and eight times more likely to complete it, according to the study.
“This age demographic often includes a group of patients that typically don’t go to the doctor as often as other groups unless they are ill,” said lead author Mack Ruffin.
“Our findings suggest that these prompts through the electronic health system may be a valuable tool in encouraging more people to protect themselves from cancer.”
HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, causes most cervical cancers in women and also some cancers in men. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease, with nearly all sexually active people carrying it at some point in their lives. Most of these infections clear by themselves, but some can lead to diseases like genital warts or certain types of cancer (including cervical, anal and oral).
The development of an HPV vaccine series some years back was greeted with much enthusiasm, and not without cause as it is very effective in preventing disease. But adoption of the vaccine in the U.S. is very slow, with only 30% of women and girls getting it fully and nearly two-thirds never completing the series.
Electronics prompts can help better this situation, coupled with related enhancement of clinical and workflow practices in healthcare provider settings. Breast cancer screenings and flu shot reminders are some cases where these interventions have worked.
Study author Ruffin also pointed out the need for 80 percent adoption of the complete vaccine series to make a significant difference, the so-called “herd immunity” effect.
“We’re a long way away from achieving the HPV vaccination rates we’d like to see, but our findings potentially identify another valuable step in helping us get closer to our goal,” said Ruffin.
Around 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the U.S., and more than 4,000 die from it, according to latest data.
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This article first appeared in the August/September 2015 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.