In these days of recession and increasing numbers of uninsured, that situation has become even more of a problem.
John Tucker, director of Imaging at FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital, calls the combination of economic downturn and decreasing mammography rates “a very bad trend,” one for which there is really no excuse in the Richmond Memorial service area.
“The fact that women have no insurance should not preclude their getting a mammogram,” Tucker says. “We have an organization in place to try to resolve these things. We have a review process in place to determine what we can do for you.”
At Richmond Memorial, the Imaging staff works in cooperation with board certified radiologists from Charlotte Radiology to offer reduced-rate or no-cost mammograms for patients who meet financial qualifications.
According to Tucker, low-cost or no-cost exams are also available for other Imaging services, including vascular screenings for peripheral artery disease, carotid artery/stroke and abdominal aortic aneurysm.
“But mammography is the most obvious,” he says.
The review process begins with registration when a mammography patient with financial concerns meets with a hospital Medicaid eligibility specialist. That person reviews the patient’s financial situation and then determines if the woman qualifies for assistance and, if so, for how much.
“The process starts there with our patients, and we let the organization work with them,” Tucker says. “That’s our goal.”
While mammograms don’t keep women from getting cancer, they do reduce the number of breast cancer deaths. Leslie A. Salloum, M.D., a general surgeon with Mid-Carolinas Surgical Associates, recommends a baseline mammogram for women between the ages of 35 and 40 and annual screenings beginning at age 40.
He also stresses the importance of monthly breast self-exams that women do in the privacy of their home in addition to the physician exam that would be performed during a routine physical.
The Imaging staff at Richmond Memorial currently does about 350 mammograms a month, but has the capacity for more – all performed with the latest in imaging technology.
“Richmond Memorial was the first hospital in the region and the first in FirstHealth to integrate CAD (computer-aided detection) technology and digital mammography,” says Scott Hees, D.O., medical director of the hospital’s Imaging program. “Both have been shown to increase the detection of breast cancer.”
In addition, every patient who has a diagnostic mammogram at Richmond Memorial will speak directly with a hospital radiologist about the results of the exam – no matter what the results are.
“An abnormal screening mammogram can really generate anxiety, and I think it’s important for the patient to know the results the same day,” Dr. Hees says. “The anxiety is relived if the study is negative, and steps can be hastened to determine a definitive diagnosis if it is positive.”