Breast Screening During COVID-19 – Is it Time to #ReturnToCare?

Oct 20, 2020

Early this year marked the beginning of the first pandemic to hit globally in over a century. Since March 2020, to combat the contagious nature of the COVID-19 virus, many hospitals and healthcare facilities around the world have placed restrictions on elective services, either by reducing intake or shutting down entirely.

Elective procedures are considered to include those procedures that do not directly impact an individual’s immediate survival. As such, breast screening services, including mammography, ultrasound and MRI have seen widespread shutdowns.

It is unclear what the longer-term implications of these delays will be, but as elective procedures open, one thing is clear:

COVID-19 has created a backlog in breast screening services.

Breast Screening During COVID-19

With procedures and equipment in place to ensure the safety of patients and staff at mammography clinics, the potential health impact from cancelling and/or delaying cancer screenings may be emerging as a bigger concern than the pandemic itself.

Mammography is currently the best available frontline tool for early cancer detection. The unintended consequences of delayed screening begins with those who are unaware that they already have cancer.

Studies suggest that the pandemic has led to an approximately 90% drop in mammography screening between March and April. While mammography volumes have started to increase since late spring, there are still significantly fewer mammography screening visits being scheduled compared to prior years.

With delayed screening services due to widespread shutdowns, and fear of seeking medical care during the pandemic, it is expected that there will be subsequent delays in diagnosis and treatment, potentially exhibiting long term consequences.

By delaying mammograms too long, women risk having breast cancer diagnosed at a more advanced stage, contributing to higher rates of breast cancer-related deaths that could potentially have been avoided with regular screening. Recent analysis has shown that the disruption in breast cancer screening services for six months due to the pandemic may add over 5,000 deaths from breast cancer this decade. Prolonged disruption beyond six months will make the situation much worse.


Is it Safe to Get a Mammogram?

While there may be concerns about accessing healthcare during the pandemic, it is important to keep up on medical care in a safe and timely fashion. As we settle into the “new normal”, it is important to prioritize our health and wellness again.

Identifying breast cancer early is particularly important, as early detection improves overall prognosis and reduces the likelihood of needing more aggressive treatment. Prevention services like mammography can help facilitate precision breast health through early detection. Postponement of prevention services may lead to long-term consequences.

Stressed middle-age white woman representing sentiments associated with breast screening during COVID-19

COVID-19 Mammography Procedures

Breast imaging requires close contact with patients and provides no option for physical distancing during mammography and ultrasound image acquisition. However the pandemic has changed how healthcare is delivered and breast imaging facilities have implemented extensive protocols to reduce the risk of infection for both patients and clinical care teams.

Some precautions that are being taken in healthcare facilities may include:

  • Screening for COVID-19 symptoms upon booking and/or upon arrival for appointment

  • Universal masking

  • Physical distancing when applicable, such as in the waiting rooms

  • Increased housekeeping and disinfection protocols

Mammographer doing a mammogram on a patient

How to Use A.I. for Better Mammography Quality and Safety

As we move closer towards precision breast medicine, screening mammography remains crucial in the prevention of breast cancer-related deaths through early detection as well as early and tailored treatment regimens.

With the anticipated increase in demand for mammography services to keep up with rescheduled and net new mammography exams, it is important now more than ever to optimize workflow efficiency and reduce the number of technical recalls due to poor mammographic image quality.

The growing backlog of women awaiting their rescheduled mammography exams has led to projections of widespread radiologist burnout due to understaffed clinical care teams working to maintain scheduled and catch up on missed mammography screening appointments.

A.I. provides support for radiologists and healthcare facilities by automating and standardizing tedious and time-consuming tasks, and by providing necessary information on-demand so that they can focus on the more challenging diagnostic tasks.

By removing these administrative and resource intensive burdens, A.I. solutions provide the necessary efficiency boost to help manage patients and processes at a time of understaffing and increased workloads.

Clinical care teams are experiencing increased pressure to manage the mammography backlogs. Densitas solutions integrate seamlessly into existing workflows through automated solutions that provide standardized and on-demand results that address routine, time-consuming, subjective and fatiguing tasks.

Request a demo to see how Densitas can help you with your mammography clinic business continuity as you manage the growing backlog of rescheduled and net new mammography exams.

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