A colonoscopy is a medical procedure used to screen for colon cancer. It’s recommended for people with a personal history of colon polyps (benign growths that can turn into cancer), a family history of colon cancer, or a positive Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT). Colonoscopies are considered to be relatively safe, but there are some risks associated with the procedure.
Although rare, perforation of the bowel is one of the most serious complications of colonoscopy. People with a pre-existing medical condition such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis are more susceptible to perforation, but it can happen to anyone. And while patients are well-educated prior to the procedure and informed of possible complications, Cathy Clackson, Director, Endoscopy Program, Island Health, believes we need to learn everything we can about the circumstances surrounding bowel perforations, and how to prevent them from happening, to keep patients safe.
According to Cathy, approximately 31,000 colonoscopies are performed each year at hospitals and clinics across Island Health. Bowel perforations occur infrequently, approximately 5 out of every 1,000 tests, but Cathy says BC PSLS offered her and her team a way to dig deeper into these events to learn more about them.
“I worked with our Quality and Safety team last fall to make changes to BC PSLS. Now, all patient safety events at Island Health that involve a bowel perforation (iatrogenic injury) are assigned a degree of harm of 3 (moderate harm) and forwarded immediately to me for review through the automatic notification feature in BC PSLS. There are eight of us looking at these events now, including a physician partner I reach out to when I see something concerning. We discuss these cases at our quarterly Quality Council meetings.”
Since implementing these small changes, Cathy says there’s a heightened level of awareness about the seriousness of bowel perforations among frontline staff.
Cathy says physicians are also engaged and actively participating in a new educational program called the Direct Operation Procedure (DOPS), which gives physicians the opportunity to be assessed on their colonoscopy technique by their peers.
New partnerships with Emergency Departments across Vancouver Island are helping to raise awareness among staff of the signs and symptoms of bowel perforation. “If a patient arrives in an Emergency Department with severe abdominal pain one or two days after a colonoscopy, there’s a possibility it’s related to the procedure.”
Cathy is encouraged by the work they’re doing at Island Health and is hopeful that provincial standards will one day be established.
Special thanks to Cathy Clackson and the Island Health Endoscopy Program for sharing their story with us.
Congratulations on your achievements!
Cathy would like to acknowledge frontline staff across Island Health for their ongoing support and dedication to safe patient care through the Endoscopy Program.
To learn more about this project and the Endoscopy Program, you can reach Cathy by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about colon cancer screening and colonoscopies, please visit:
- Why should I be screened for colon cancer?
- What is the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)?
- What is Colonoscopy?
- Fast Facts on Colorectal Cancer (CRC)
- Live Broadcast of a Colonoscopy (Mayo Clinic)
- March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month