Updated February 28 at 12:29am

Five Questions With: Dr. Tracey Cohen

Medical director at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island talks about the goals of the insurance provider’s statewide screening outreach effort.

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Five Questions With: Dr. Tracey Cohen


Earlier this month, the mayors of Central Falls, Pawtucket and Providence gathered to undergo health screenings in the light of day and the glare of the media spotlight.

The mayors were helping raise awareness of a statewide effort to encourage health screenings, particularly in communities traditionally underserved by health care.

A collaboration among Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Lifespan and Walgreens, the program hopes to evaluate 500 residents at a series of free health screenings around the state in April, May and June.

PBN spoke with BCBSRI Medical Director Dr. Tracey Cohen about the goals of the outreach effort.

PBN: How did this screening partnership come about?

COHEN: BCBSRI has always championed collaborative approaches to improving our community’s health, and we were excited to engage with partners who could help to get the word out (WBRU), conduct the screenings (Lifespan), and provide materials for testing and follow-up (Walgreens). This partnership also reflects BCBSRI’s and other community leaders’ commitment to reducing health disparities in Rhode Island.

PBN: What is the goal of the program and why are these screenings important?

COHEN: The goal of these screenings is to increase early detection of Type II diabetes and hypertension. These conditions are called “silent killers” because symptoms frequently go unnoticed until serious complications arise. But if diabetes and hypertension are discovered early, many of their harmful effects may be avoided by healthy lifestyle choices and timely treatment. Patients identified as high risk will receive education, referrals to care, and vouchers for free glucometers from Walgreens. We aim to evaluate 500 residents over the course of six screenings this spring.

PBN: How will you entice or encourage residents to come to the screenings and how are you working to spread the word?

COHEN: At a kick-off event at Providence City Hall, the mayors of Providence, Central Falls and Pawtucket received diabetes screenings to show just how easy it is. We’re also working with our partners at Lifespan, WBRU and Walgreens as well as community organizations across the state to promote the initiative. Word-of-mouth is one of our most powerful tools, so we hope that people will share the news with their friends and neighbors.

PBN: Why is it important to reach out to the state's minority communities on health issues?

COHEN: This is part of a broader effort to reduce healthcare disparities in Rhode Island’s Hispanic and African American communities. Nearly 20 percent of adult African Americans and 13 percent of Hispanic adults have diagnosed or undiagnosed Type II diabetes, compared to an estimated 7 percent in non-minority populations. These communities also suffer from higher rates of hypertension and dyslipidemia, all of which contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease leading to heart attacks, and strokes. Early Type II diabetes, pre-diabetes, and hypertension often do not result in recognizable symptoms, making it critical for anyone with risk factors to get screened regularly. Language and socio-economic barriers can make it challenging for providers to reach these individuals. Some people don’t seek preventive care because they are confused by the healthcare landscape in general, and we hope that efforts like these screenings will help people understand how to get the care they need.

PBN: Can the partnership model being used on this program be effective to address other health issues here in Rhode Island?

COHEN: Absolutely. Changing our health care system requires collaboration among providers, physicians and insurers, and this is just one way that organizations can combine their resources and take meaningful action.


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