Sanford patients face yearlong wait for routine colonoscopies in Fargo

FARGO — Routine colonoscopy screenings are backlogged, and patients commonly face one-year waits to get in for the preventive procedure at Sanford Health here.

“We’re not real happy about that and are working very actively to improve that,” including recruitment of more gastroenterologists, who perform the procedure, said Dr. Doug Griffin, vice president and medical officer for Sanford Health in Fargo.

Primary care providers can refer patients willing to travel to outlying clinics, including Sanford in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, which has an ambulatory surgery center and has added providers, some traveling from Fargo.

Those willing to drive to Detroit Lakes can get in for a colonoscopy in two months, Griffin said Friday, July 22. Referrals are possible in other outlying communities, and patients should consult with their primary care provider, he said.

The unusually long delay for the procedure that is used to detect colorectal cancer stems from a variety of factors.

One is increasing demand for colonoscopies, partly because of new guidelines calling for the procedure for those with average risk starting at age 45, down from 50, a recommendation that came out about a year ago, Griffin said.

“We’re doing more colonoscopies than we did a year ago,” he said. Also, there could be pent-up demand for colonoscopies, as some people delayed care because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patients should talk to their primary care providers about the need for colon screenings and other preventive health screenings, Griffin said. Besides colonoscopies, patients can use fecal-immuno chemical tests, commonly called home stool tests.

Another option, he said, a test called Cologuard, combines the home stool test with a DNA test. Home screen tests are recommended every year, while the Cologuard test is recommended every two or three years.

Those who test positive in a home stool test or Cologuard test or who have symptoms such as bleeding will get in sooner for a colonoscopy, Griffin said, although he could not provide an estimated wait time.

The unusually long waits for a colonoscopy are not typical for preventive health care. Patients can get in for a mammogram within a couple of days, and waits for other screening tests also are much shorter, Griffin said.

“This is an outlier as far as availability for screening,” he said. “It will take probably a few months to reduce” the wait time for colonoscopies.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever been this long out,” he added.

Demand for health services has risen broadly. “We’ve just been busy on all kinds of fronts,” Griffin said.

The wait time for routine colonoscopies is six to eight weeks at Essentia Health, according to Dr. Richard Vetter, chief medical officer.

“Maybe six weeks would be kind of an average,” although the wait time fluctuates, he said.

Essentia also can schedule the procedure in outlying facilities, including those in Detroit Lakes and Jamestown.

Those who present with more urgent cases, such as bleeding, are seen much sooner, Vetter said.

Other preventive health screenings, such as other cancer screenings, cholesterol, blood pressure or diabetes checks, can be seen within a week by somebody in their care team, although it takes two or three weeks to see a primary care provider, Vetter said.

“As long as we have good primary care access, we feel we can meet the need,” he said.

Radiology scans can be scheduled in “one week, two at the max,” and Essentia patients can schedule their mammograms online, Vetter said.

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address:

Phone: 701-367-5294

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