Helping Patients Prepare for a Colonoscopy


Article Categories: Patient Care & Laboratory and Testing

Mention the word “colonoscopy” and the response is always the same: GROAN! Another thing that is always the same? Patients understand that a colonoscopy is an important test, but they all agree, “It’s the prep, not the procedure” that they dread.



Medical Assistants may be the professional who helps patients understand what a colonoscopy is for and who provides the education for preparing for the examination. While you can’t help much with the actual cleansing process of the bowel prep, you can offer support that will ease their anxiety and give them good reasons to follow all steps of the procedure.

1. Colonoscopies are a common procedure. Over 14 million are performed each year on patients over age 50.

2. A colonoscopy is such a valuable test. The American Cancer Society states that colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of adult deaths. A colonoscopy can help prevent deaths by diagnosing early-stage cancer, when it is easy to treat and before it metastasizes. Colon polyps can develop into cancer over about ten years, so cancer is actually prevented with regular screening.

3. It’s not as embarrassing as many people think. For patients having their first colonoscopy, they may feel embarrassed and anxious about having an instrument inserted into a private area. However, with mild sedation, they will likely “sleep” through the procedure and wake up in a recovery room, without feeling a thing. The staff assisting the physician will be friendly and focused on keeping the patient comfortable.

4. If the doctor finds a polyp or an unusual area, a biopsy will be done. The polyp or a tiny piece of tissue from the suspicious area will be sent to a lab, where a pathologist can diagnose the sample. About 30% of men and 20% of women have polyps, but most are benign. A colonoscopy with precancerous polyp removal can prevent cancer in 90% of cases.

5. The actual procedure usually takes less than 30 minutes. Patients are surprised to learn that they can sometimes return to work and resume activities after the sedation has worn off, but most doctors recommend staying home for the rest of the day. There is added time for check-in and the recovery room, but most patients are on their way within a couple of hours. They will need a driver because of the anesthesia, but there should be no discomfort.

6. As far as the test prep goes, there is no way around the fact that it is a nuisance. The patient begins the day before the procedure with clear liquids. The laxatives and bowel cleansers are carefully timed to ensure that the colon will be clean at the time of the test. The MA can stress the need to follow all instructions, since a colon that isn’t clean means another appointment—and some insurance companies will not reimburse for a second screening.

The good news about colonoscopies? Colorectal cancer rates have dropped off by 30% over the last ten years because of screenings. And, speaking of ten years, if the screening is negative (no polyps or abnormal areas on the colon wall) then the patient can relax for a full decade before undergoing another colonoscopy.

Back to Top