By Dr. Chantal Reyna, breast surgical oncologist and Jaci Haack, vice president of client strategy, Welltok.
A recent poll shows that 48% of Americans said they or a family member have delayed or skipped certain medical care because of the pandemic. While health systems often encourage patients to prioritize their breast health with an annual mammogram or routine consultation, this year, many patients are avoiding elective health visits altogether due to fears of contracting COVID-19.
Data show that the pandemic has delayed breast cancer screening in many parts of the country. Some of this resulted from statements from various academic societies, such as the American College of Radiology, during the beginning of the pandemic. However, this is staggering when you consider the importance of early detection and preventative screenings when it comes to diagnosing breast cancer and other life-threatening conditions. As time progresses, availability and recommendations regarding screening modalities evolves.
Since both screening and diagnostic mammograms are typically conducted at a hospital or large outpatient healthcare facilities, some patients have been hesitant to schedule these exams – even when a patient has a lump or nodule that should be addressed – out of fears of visiting a facility where they may be at risk for COVID-19 infection. Many health systems are experiencing a decline in these appointments and physicians are fearful that patients may be putting their health at risk.
How can health systems ensure that their patients are participating in crucial, and sometimes lifesaving, examinations? Here are three steps providers can take to encourage patients to have mammograms and other breast health exams during COVID-19:
Promote new safety precautions
A safe environment is key to protecting patients from potential exposure to COVID-19 and other health risks when coming in for a mammogram. Hospitals should make sure they are adhering to social distancing measures, wearing masks, establishing additional sanitizing stations and spreading out appointments to minimize the number of patients coming in at a certain time.