Emerging solutions for improved efficiency, patient comfort and image quality may ease the strain of increased patient volume as women catch up with mammography screenings that were delayed or put off during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Citing national estimates, the authors of a recent JAMA Network article noted that COVID-19 led to an “estimated deficit of 3.9 million breast cancer screenings among US adults.”
Comparing April 2020 to April 2019, one study found a 90.8 percent decrease in breast cancer screening rates. Another study by Epic Health Research Network similarly noted a whopping 94 percent plummet in breast and cervical cancer screenings in March 2020. While researchers noted that these screening volumes began to rise in June 2020, the screening rate still remained 29 percent lower than pre-COVID levels.
In other words, COVID-19 put women’s health screenings on the back burner and today, women and providers alike are still playing catch-up. Patients who put off their mammograms are scurrying for appointments and many women’s imaging centers are overburdened with a backlog of patients. Add to this the fact that mammography has always been something of a “loss leader” and the need to run an efficient operation is more paramount than ever before.
Granted, there is a lot of competition with more than 8,600 certified mammography facilities nationwide. But now is the time to take control of your women’s imaging business. Accordingly, we take a closer look at three common practice problems and how to fix them. By addressing these three operational issues, your women’s health facility will be poised to stay competitive while providing the highest quality breast care.
Ramping Up Administrative Efficiency
Maintaining administrative efficiency can be a burden for any kind of medical practice, but perhaps nowhere is the challenge greater than in women’s imaging. A successful women’s imaging practice must service a high volume of patients and keeping in touch with them is critical in order to help ensure their return for annual screenings.
It’s not atypical for mammographers to see an unusually high volume of patients, which can be challenging for administrative staff. Everything from scheduling and billing to patient tracking and communicating results can eat up staff time. Even worse, these tasks may not be handled effectively or at all, costing the practice money and a possible loss of patient volume.
Clearly, your people can be your greatest asset. Recruiting the most organized and efficient staff is step one. This is followed by thorough training on everything from phone systems and computer programs to insurance procedures.
However, many practices have also found that investing in a comprehensive workflow management solution, such as Fujifilm’s Synapse Enterprise Information System (EIS), can help boost efficiency. A robust tool, Synapse EIS provides the support practices and imaging centers need to handle a wide range of business administration tasks ranging from scheduling and registering patients to notifying them when results are ready for review.
Best of all, with its patient engagement capabilities, Synapse EIS puts patients in the driver’s seat.
Smooth and clear communication with patients is key if you want your practice to thrive. Good communication can increase patient adherence as well. With Synapse EIS, patients access a portal where they can set up appointments, receive appointment reminders, get information on how to prep for their exam, and receive notifications when their results are in.
Keys To Relieving Patient Anxiety and Discomfort
Time and again, studies have shown that many women skip exams due to a host of fears, including fear of pain, fear of receiving bad news, or anxiety over being told they need an additional procedure such as a biopsy.
However, lack of patient adherence—skipping annual exams—is not only bad for the patient’s health care, it is bad for the bottom line of your practice as well.
Providers have the ability to conquer this problem. There are a number of steps you can take to help alleviate patient anxiety and physical discomfort.
• Provide educational information via your website and/or waiting room. Understanding the mammography experience is the first step toward putting a patient at ease. Your website and print literature should communicate clearly about how the exam is performed, and note that the physical pressure or discomfort of an exam varies from woman to woman. Offer as much information as possible, but in layman’s terms. Educating women via your website can help relax patients about the mammography experience in advance of their arrival.
• Create a relaxing environment. Clinical, institutional settings can actually enhance feelings of fear. Smart providers invest in creating a comfortable, warm setting from the waiting room to the gowns they offer in the exam room. Some providers have even converted their women’s imaging facility into a spa-like setting complete with soft music, aromatherapy scents, and vibrant plants. The more tranquil the atmosphere, the calmer the patient.
• Hire sensitive techs. Your team will always be your biggest asset. While solid training, experience and skill in performing exams is critical, don't overlook the importance of personality traits that make patients feel comfortable. Friendliness, sensitivity and compassion can go a long way at putting patients at ease and keep them coming back.
• Choose the right equipment. Not all mammography equipment is created equal. Invest in equipment designed to make mammography exams as comfortable as possible. For example, Fujifilm’s ASPIRE Cristalle with Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (DBT) was engineered with patient comfort in mind. The intelligent design of ASPIRE Cristalle's patented Comfort Paddle provides noticeably less pain and anxiety for the patient. With its unique flexible, slotted 4-way tilting paddle design, it provides more even compression, improving the patient experience. The Comfort Paddle is designed to conform to the natural shape of the breast, reducing pressure at the chest wall side with the goal of ensuring the most even and adequate compression so women come back time and time again for this much needed exam. Better comfort equals better patient adherence.
Maximizing Image Quality
One very common problem for mammography practices is simply obtaining high quality images from the start. Practices can’t afford to waste time retaking images over and over. Spending an inordinate amount of time to get the image right can really cut into profits. Moreover, it can be terribly stressful for both the technologist and the patient.
Naturally, it’s important for techs to have the proper training and the best tools to obtain accurate images quickly and efficiently.
Providers who use Fujifilm’s ASPIRE Cristalle can expect exceptional image quality, which is critical to detecting tumors, especially small ones at the earliest stages. The addition of DBT adds even higher diagnostic capabilities to help physicians detect cancers earlier for better patient outcomes while striving to keep radiation dose as low as possible.
However, even with exceptional technology, issues can arise. A tech may be rushed or a patient may fidget, and you want to avoid that situation resulting in a substandard image. Fortunately, there are tools that can help your practice rectify these problems immediately.
For example, radiologists who utilize Fujifilm Aspire with DBT will have access to the latest innovations from Volpara Health’s Breast Health Platform. Volpara®Live!™ helps reduce patient recalls due to poor image quality. The tool gives mammographers instant feedback on positioning and compression — to which the FDA attributes the cause of most image deficiencies — for adjustment before the patient leaves the room. That means getting the right image the first time with less need for recalls.
In addition, Volpara® Enterprise™ provides a comprehensive analysis of quality on every mammogram and tomosynthesis image taken at a provider’s facility to identify opportunities for improvement.
If you have not yet introduced DBT to your practice but plan to, consider the potential impact on the efficiency of your practice. DBT requires a robust PACS system for image review. Fujifilm’s Synapse® PACS is a next-generation, secure, server-side technology that allows for speedy viewing of images, including the large data sets generated by tomosynthesis.
Getting the image right — right from the start — means enhanced diagnostic confidence and improved overall quality for your practice. That kind of reputation leads to satisfied patients, increased referrals, and a boost to your bottom line.
Give Your Practice a Competitive Edge
Over 38 million mammography procedures are performed annually in the U.S. What share of the pie will be yours in the future?
In order to keep pace with volume and stay competitive, facilities must be as efficient as possible. In addition to the right team, the right technology can help you address administrative, patient comfort and image quality issues. Solve these three problems and your women’s imaging practice will gain the competitive edge it needs to thrive in a challenging, but very meaningful, health-care niche.