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Easier Mammograms?

November 9, 2009
by stacey
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So I finally had my first mammogram today. Age-wise, it’s a bit early. Schedule-wise, it’s a bit late. My family history is such that I was supposed to have my first scan a year-and-a-half ago. But being that I was pregnant then, knowingly getting radiated was not on the table. So when my doctor scheduled the test for me, I made time in my schedule to fit it in. But then the woman from the imaging department called me to reschedule, telling me that they needed to move appointments around due to staffing problems. And then, when I showed up bright and early at the imaging center this morning and filled out pages and pages of medical history that the hospital should have already had on file, and then waited and waited to be seen, I really thought it was a no-no yet again. In the end, I had the test. But imagine how much of everyone’s time was wasted without the imaging center properly harnessing IT. Well, I’m grateful, at least, that we have IT so that a test like that was even possible. So, I guess I really shouldn’t complain.

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A little over two years ago, my wife and I moved to a new city and new jobs. When she went in for her first mammogram it was literally an all-day affair. She spent more than 8 hours filling out paperwork, waiting for the test, taking the test, waiting to discuss the results of the test and then discussing them. This at one of this country's premiere academic medical centers with quality ratings in the top top percentiles. It was an emotionally and physically draining experience for her.

Now that she is no longer "new" to the practice, her yearly exams only consume about 4 hours of her time. What is most frustrating is that only about 30 minutes of this time is actual imaging and review of results.

HCIT, and in particular better schedule planning, pre-visit preparation and lean-type workflows, can certainly help, but I suspect that the real driver is the fee-for-service driven imperative to keep imaging (and in fact all diagnostic) equipment at 100% or greater utilization. The cost to a hospital to queue up a wating room full of patients is negligible by comparison to the cost of 15 min of equipment downtime.

It's amazing how much we rely on paper processes in the current healthcare system. It's badly broken - no doubt. That's the downside today. The great news is that finally HCIT is getting serious traction and one day soon we should all be able to see signs of improvement and hopefully less paper.
I have no grand illusions of Nirvana - but it has to be better than what we have today.

stacey

Stacey Kramer is Managing Editor of Healthcare Informatics. She writes feature stories and...