The Reading Room

Breast screening patients have high expectations. Here's how to position your organization for success.

by Catherine Kosse and Erin Lane

Editor's note: This post was updated on April 11, 2019.

Sixty-four percent of women aged 40 or older receive biennial mammography screenings, and over the next 10 years, this population will likely grow with an estimated exam volume increase of 7.4%. To secure current market share and attract new patients, imaging programs must differentiate their breast screening services from competitors by meeting rising patient expectations.

A new study provides insight into mammography patient preferences for results delivery. So, what do patients want, and how can you deliver on new expectations?

Patients expect prompt screening results, follow-up

For the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, researchers surveyed over 2,000 women at two academic breast imaging centers in Richmond, Virginia to pinpoint patient preferences with mammography follow-up. Notably, almost half of the women surveyed preferred mammography results within 24 hours of their appointment. Specifically, 24.8% are willing to wait at the appointment for results and 24.4% would like results within 24 hours. Compounding this finding, 41.5% of patients said they prefer follow-up appointments scheduled the next day.

This study underscores the importance of streamlined breast screening services, from results delivery to follow-up care, to increase patient satisfaction. Screenings alone are a revenue source, but they can also lead to significant downstream care. Failure to meet patient expectations risks losing future patient care for this consumer-driven population. In fact, Advisory Board surveys show that 61% of breast cancer patients changed cancer centers due to dissatisfaction, more than any other tumor type.

3 key components of highly efficient mammography programs

The survey underscores the importance of providing efficient results delivery and coordinated follow-up care. We recently spoke with best-in-class breast centers and uncovered three steps to success:

  1. Enable real-time radiologist reads: Station radiologists on-site or provide technology that enables radiologists to access images immediately after the exam. Then, create strong technologist-radiologist communication channels to promptly address patient history questions or paperwork issues. This approach ensures reads are completed efficiently and reduces potential delays in the patient receiving results.

  2. Leverage technology to streamline results delivery: Once the radiologist reads the exams, expedite the patient-friendly follow-up instructions with technology. Vendors, such as PenRad, allow programs to store multiple pre-templated follow-up letters with space for individual notes. Programs should ensure templates include language about breast density in preparation for the new federal proposal for breast density reporting language (see DenseBreast-info.org for more on the FDA's proposal). Additionally, radiologists must recommend next steps, such as an annual mammogram exam, a follow-up diagnostic exam, or a surgeon consultation.

  3. Provide or schedule next steps promptly: Address abnormal results quickly to decrease patient anxiety and provide timely diagnoses. Create time blocks in the clinic schedule or leverage additional staff to perform diagnostic mammograms or other follow-up exams same or next day. If necessary, schedule consultations with breast surgeon or interventional radiologists before a patient's departure.

    For example, Henry Ford Health System reserves five morning appointments daily, typically held for high-risk patients, for immediate results delivery. Patients in those slots receive their results and instructions for next steps before leaving the imaging center. The breast center also holds diagnostic mammography slots in the afternoon so patients have the option for same-day follow-up exams. As a result, the center's average report turnaround time reduced to one hour and it decreased the time from exam to report delivery by 50%.

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