Mammography waiting times reach crisis level in southern states

November 25, 2007

Researchers from Ohio have found huge national discrepancies in waiting times for mammography. Women in the southern states fare much worse than their sisters in other regions.

Researchers from Ohio have found huge national discrepancies in waiting times for mammography. Women in the southern states fare much worse than their sisters in other regions.

In a telephone-based study of 80 mammography centers conducted during late October 2007, the team concluded that women in the South wait an average of 25 days for a screening mammogram and 22 days for a diagnostic mammogram, compared with 14.6 and 7.5 days, respectively, for patients in the Northeast.

"There is minimal literature regarding the waiting time for scheduling a mammogram in the U.S.," said Dr. Jill Schieda, a radiology resident at MetroHealth Medical Center, Case Western Reserve University, in Copley, OH, in a scientific poster. "The few studies that do discuss this have waiting times on average of two to four weeks for screening mammograms and one week for diagnostic mammograms."

Mammography centers have struggled to provide examinations in a timely fashion due to factors such as increased demand from an aging population and the apparent shortage of breast radiologists and technologists, said Schieda, who won Case Western's 2007 radiology resident professionalism award.

The study used contact details for a cross-section of centers taken from the website of the Mammography Quality Standards Act. The country was divided into four regions: Northeast, Midwest, South, and West. Over a three-day period, the researchers obtained the first available examination times for 20 centers in each area.

Overall, the average waiting time for a screening mammogram was 15.9 days, against 11.8 days for a diagnostic mammogram. The respective waiting times in the West were 13.4 and 8.5 days, compared with 10.6 and 9.3 days in the Midwest.

Schieda and her coauthors admit that the study has limitations, however. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which typically bolsters demand for appointments. Also, the sample size in the study was limited, and no account was taken of cancellations.

"This exercise has given us some understanding of where we stand with respect to provision of these services. It has also stimulated us to initiate a larger formal research project that will include characterization of the service providers (academic versus community hospital versus outpatient center/physician office) so that a more in-depth and detailed description of mammography service availability can be made," the authors said.