Hospitals can do more to teach patients about mammography

It’s no secret that patients often get confused by breast cancer screening guidelines—heck, it’s confusing for clinicians as well; I know radiology chairs who struggle to get their whole department on the same page.

It’s a serious issue, and one that also exists in regards to breast density. When a patient is told she has dense breasts, what should she do next? Who should she see? What exam does she need? These are all questions women try to answer on a daily basis.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology examined one reason issues in women’s imaging may be so hard to follow: Hospitals aren’t using their own resources to educate patients.

Gelareh Sadigh, MD, from the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, and colleagues analyzed data on more than 3,200 U.S. hospitals that offer mammography services and have a website. The team found that just 54 percent of those hospitals provided online educational material related to mammography, and less than one percent presented the information at an appropriate reading level for the average American.

In addition, just 28 percent of the hospitals presented information to help patients make sense of conflicting guidelines.

Yikes! Those aren’t good numbers, folks.

Sadigh et al. summarized their conclusions like this: “At a time when controversies abound regarding differing screening mammography guidelines, almost three-fourths of all hospital websites providing mammography patient information do so without any mention of or reference to any established guidelines. When patients seek health care information online, the understandability of the information they find is important to them, but so too is the endorsement of that information by a government agency or a professional organization. On both counts, with regard to screening mammography information, most hospital websites fail to meet patient needs.”

Hopefully, this shifts over time and hospitals begin to update their websites. In the meantime, imaging leaders can actually help in a big way. If you work in a hospital, or partner with one, simply speaking up could be all it takes to make a difference. Your department may not technically be in charge of the facility’s website, but sending one email to the right person could get that website updated, providing helpful information for patients.

Helping women make the best possible choices for their health? That sounds like value to me!