Serious diseases like breast cancer don't stop, not even during a global pandemic. According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the total number of cancer screening tests received by women through its National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program declined by 87% for breast cancer during April 2020, as compared with the previous 5-year averages for that month.
"Numbers like these point to "a growing concern that patients will either see a relapse in their illness or will experience new complications as a result of waiting too long to visit the doctor."
— according to Stericycle's Senior Vice President, Matt Dickson.
Screening delays mean that cancer cases go undiagnosed or are diagnosed at a later stage, leading to a worse prognosis and poor health consequences. Recently, research published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine shows that patients without COVID-19 hospitalized during pandemic-related surges experienced a 20 percent higher in-hospital mortality rate than that observed in the pre-pandemic period.
Patient Engagement is Critical to Encouraging Preventative Screenings
Patient engagement is more critical than ever to ensure that patients seek preventative, such as mammography appointments. To encourage preventative screenings and get patients back to in-person routine care, health systems must increase awareness of breast cancer and promote mammography appointments—especially during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here are six patient engagement strategies to help increase mammography appointments.
Improve Awareness with Targeted Patient Engagement Campaigns
Use public awareness campaigns and social media to remind patients about mammograms, offer educational information, and share powerful statistics that highlight the importance of early detection.
For example, you could share statistics such as these from the American College of Radiology on your social media platforms:
- Mammography has helped reduce breast cancer mortality in the U.S. by nearly 40% since 1990.
- 3/4 of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease and are not considered high risk.
Campaigns like these can attract new patients to your health system and can be coupled with preventative care reminders for existing patients who need to schedule mammography appointments.
Increase Access by Streamlining Appointment Scheduling
Make it easy for patients to find a provider and schedule an appointment by providing convenient mammogram scheduling options and access points. Consider developing an outreach campaign for patients who canceled or delayed their mammograms during the pandemic.
Send texts and emails with a link to schedule online and offer a scheduling hotline for those reticent to book online. Offering live voice scheduling with multilingual agents can capture patients who prefer to speak with a person when scheduling their appointment and those whose primary language isn't English.
Ease Patient Concerns and Anxiety
Patients have added concerns about COVID-19 and safety, so be sure to share your system's protocols. Provide patients with information about the procedure and what to expect during their appointment. Mammograms can be a stressful experience for patients in normal times, so those anxieties can be heightened during the pandemic.
Consider implementing a hotline specifically for patients to call with their questions and concerns in advance of their mammogram. This can be one way to ease patients' minds and create confidence before their upcoming appointment.
Remind Busy Patients with an Outreach Campaign
Women are typically the primary healthcare decision-makers in the family and can often be overwhelmed with countless duties, including planning and prepping for multiple visits for children and other family members throughout the year. Often, they prioritize their own health needs last.
To reach busy patients, conduct multichannel outreach that combines texts, emails, letters, postcards, and/or phone calls. Once an appointment is made, send reminders through the patient's channel of action, including the address for the appointment and other important instructions. Even more, because patients are busy, be sure to give them an easy way to communicate a need to cancel or reschedule.
Educate Patients About the Importance of Mammography
Leverage Breast Cancer Awareness Month to introduce or plan events that cater to women and engage them in their health. Breast cancer support groups, women's health fairs, and other classes specific to women's health issues can help deepen relationships with existing patients and attract new ones. For the events and classes that require registration, be sure to allow patients to quickly and easily register online.
Reengage Patients Annually
Patients may be unclear on the correct or most up-to-date recommendations for mammography screenings or may have heard conflicting instructions from different sources. Incorporate the American Cancer Society guidelines for early detection into your patient outreach and campaign plans.
40 to 44
have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish
45 to 54
get mammograms every year
55 and older
switch to mammograms every two years or can continue yearly screening
NOTE: Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live ten more years or longer.
Source: American Cancer Society
For example, communicate to patients that are about to turn 45 that they need to start having a mammogram every year. Even more, send a reminder to those patients at least two months before they are due for their annual screening so they can plan and schedule their mammogram accordingly.
Early detection saves lives. According to the CDC, regular mammography screenings can help doctors find breast cancer as early as three years before it can be felt. This is why focused patient engagement for mammography screenings is critical. To learn how St. Luke's Hospital Women's Center used our Intelligent Scheduling solution to deliver high patient satisfaction and new mammography patients, download our case study.