Effect of a Digital Health Intervention on Receipt of Colorectal Cancer Screening in Vulnerable Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial

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Screening for colorectal cancer (CRC) reduces mortality, yet more than one third of age-eligible Americans are unscreened.


To examine the effect of a digital health intervention, Mobile Patient Technology for Health–CRC (mPATH-CRC), on rates of CRC screening.


Randomized clinical trial. (ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT02088333)


6 community-based primary care practices.


450 patients (223 in the mPATH-CRC group and 227 in usual care) scheduled for a primary care visit and due for routine CRC screening.


An iPad application that displays a CRC screening decision aid, lets patients order their own screening tests, and sends automated follow-up electronic messages to support patients.


The primary outcome was chart-verified completion of CRC screening within 24 weeks. Secondary outcomes were ability to state a screening preference, intention to receive screening, screening discussions, and orders for screening tests. All outcome assessors were blinded to randomization.


Baseline characteristics were similar between groups; 37% of participants had limited health literacy, and 53% had annual incomes less than $20 000. Screening was completed by 30% of mPATH-CRC participants and 15% of those receiving usual care (logistic regression odds ratio, 2.5 [95% CI, 1.6 to 4.0]). Compared with usual care, more mPATH-CRC participants could state a screening preference, planned to be screened within 6 months, discussed screening with their provider, and had a screening test ordered. Half of mPATH-CRC participants (53%; 118 of 223) “self-ordered” a test via the program.


Participants were English speakers in a single health care system.


A digital health intervention that allows patients to self-order tests can increase CRC screening. Future research should identify methods for implementing similar interventions in clinical care.

Primary Funding Source:

National Cancer Institute.

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