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Published May 13, 2012, 11:30 PM

All hail the queens of colonoscopy (with video)

Lisbon clinic staff deliver screening message with a little humor
LISBON, N.D. - First Barbara Sheets-Olson was prom queen. Now she’s one of the four “Queens of Colonoscopy.” “I don’t know if that’s a promotion,” she says with a laugh.

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

LISBON, N.D. - First Barbara Sheets-Olson was prom queen. Now she’s one of the four “Queens of Colonoscopy.”

“I don’t know if that’s a promotion,” she says with a laugh.

The “queens” have been making quite an impression with their recent television and print ads.

The ad campaign, produced by Flint Communications for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, delivers a serious message with a little lighthearted humor.

The spot introduces four female health care providers from Family Medical Clinic in Lisbon with a well-timed wink from Dr. Sheets-Olson.

A narrator explains how the MediQHome system alerts them when patients are due for livesaving screenings.

If you’re due – they all chime in – “the Queens of Colonoscopy will be looking for you!”

Physician assistant and “queen” Katie Tanner says the tracking technology has helped clinic staff make recommendations for preventive care.

Each patient gets a printout listing their health maintenance history, including immunizations, Pap tests, mammograms, and yes, colonoscopies.

“After we started using MediQHome, we were picking up a lot more people who were being missed,” Tanner says.

Physician assistant Stacey Spilovoy-Walton, another of the women featured in the ads, says the system, which launched in 2009, also improves compliance.

“I think we’re pretty aggressive with our health maintenance in all areas,” she says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer is 90 percent when it’s detected early and treated.

Sheets-Olson says if there’s no family history and no symptoms, colonoscopy screening is recommended starting at age 50.

The findings of the first test determine the frequency of subsequent tests.

“Usually it’s going to be a re-screen in three to five years; 10 years if you have what we call a ‘clean colon,’ ” she says.

The Queens are crowned

A couple years ago, Sheets-Olson’s husband saw Tanner for a sinus infection, and by the time he walked out of the clinic, he was scheduled for a colonoscopy.

“He teased me about it for quite a long time that he wasn’t going to come to see me again if he had a sore throat or a cold,” Tanner says.

Clinic manager Lynn Otterson says most colonoscopies are referred to Lisbon Area Health Services.

The nickname comes from operating room staff who told Sheets-Olson: “Man, Family Medical Clinic is sending a lot of colonoscopies over here. I think we’ll call you the ‘Queens of Colonoscopy.’ ”

The North Dakota Blues approached the longtime physician with the idea for the ad campaign. Her first reaction? “Oh … no!”

When she was asked if she’d participate in the commercial, nurse practitioner Meredith Kelsen added, “That’s not in my job description!”

Despite their misgivings, the colonoscopy dream team agreed to do it, and they’re glad they did. “It was exhausting but fascinating,” Tanner says.

And what about that wink? Sheets-Olson didn’t know it was part of the plan, and it took 10-15 takes to get right. “I found myself trying to perfect the wink,” she says.

The hardest part of the process was fighting laughter. “They kept telling us to make serious faces and then it was tough not to laugh,” Kelsen says.

In fact, Kelsen’s infectious laugh made the final cut. “That’s the best part of the commercial, isn’t it?” Tanner says.

All hail the Queens

Though she wasn’t so sure about the ad when she first saw it, Sheets-Olson says it’s been great for the community.

“It’s a fun way to do a serious message,” Spilovoy-Walton says.

Since the 30-second spot started playing across the state, the Queens have been getting gifts, thanks and jokes.

A few weeks ago, one patient brought them a large bouquet of flowers and tiaras. “It was her way of giving back,” Kelsen says.

Spilovoy-Walton says her 18-month-old twin son and daughter fight over who gets to wear her tiara.

Kelsen’s son overheard his friend’s mother talking about the ad and asked her, “What’s a colonoscopy?”

“I had to explain it in 6-year-old terms,” she says.

The Queens are getting noticed around town at places like the post office and the grocery store.

“I went to go get milk at the grocery store, and some lady asked if she needed to bow, and if she did, would it be risky,” Spilovoy-Walton says.

The speaker at a conference in Bismarck mentioned it with the comment, “Wow, North Dakota is so proactive. … I saw this commercial with four women promoting colonoscopies.”

No matter how they’re received, the ads are helping spread the message about preventive care.

“People don’t want to think about or talk about colonoscopy,” Tanner says. “This has brought it more out into the open.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590