October is historically the busiest month for breast imaging with high volumes continuing throughout the remainder of the year – but this year has been anything but typical! We are six months into an unprecedented pandemic where preventative screenings were initially classified as non-essential causing a significant decrease in appointments and backlog of volume. The Society for Breast Imaging released a statement on March 17, 2020 asking for screening mammography exams to be delayed for several weeks which quickly turned into a few months.* As a result, preventative screenings, such as mammography imaging, saw up to a 93% decrease in volume as evidenced in a study published in Academic Radiology (2020).** Once it became clear that the lasting effects of the pandemic were deeper than anticipated, the medical community changed its mindset to look for alternative ways to safely provide non-urgent medical care to patients.
On July 1, 2020, the American College of Radiology issued a statement announcing the safe resumption of routine radiology care during the Coronavirus pandemic.*** As facilities have become more comfortable with safety protocols and opening schedules back up, there has been a slow return of patients initiating their screenings. This may be as a result of patients who are nervous, scared, or perhaps unable to schedule during business hours given the additional stress of adapting to this new way of pandemic life. But as schools and restaurants are re-opening, patients are feeling more assured by safety precautions in place and are ready to schedule appointments. “It’s critical that medical and healthcare providers help reassure patients that they can safely have a screening mammogram even during a pandemic. We need to encourage all patients to get caught up on missed screening mammograms and not wait an entire year for their next exam. Early detection saves lives, even during a pandemic. With the usual busy schedule that October brings, how will facilities get these other patients caught up? How will the on-site radiologists keep up? This is where telemammography comes in,” said Jennifer Davis, MD, fellowship-trained Women’s Imaging Radiologist for Direct Radiology.
Women’s imaging centers are beginning to see patient volumes rebounding as many patients are starting to feel reassured to venture out and get caught up on missed medical and screening exams. Telemammography allows sites to expand their capacity with various hours and days to best meet the patients’ needs. An on-site radiologist is not needed for screening mammograms and exams can be sent for remote reading, allowing the on-site radiologists to focus on the diagnostic and biopsy patients, freeing up additional exam/scheduling time. Facilities are supported in treating all of their patients during this busy time of year and by expanding their capacity, opening up their schedule, and reducing turn-around times for results, they are in turn improving overall patient satisfaction.
** Parikh, Keval D., et al. “COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Decreased Imaging Utilization: A Single Institutional Experience.” Academic Radiology, 2020, doi:10.1016/j.acra.2020.06.024