Healthbeat Report: The Mammogram Logjam

September 10, 2009 There's a huge campaign by the medical community encouraging women over 40 to get routine mammograms. But what's a woman to think when she has to wait weeks even months to get in for her screening?

Martita Rodriguez, 39, was told by her Northwestern doctor to set up an appointment for her first mammogram one year in advance because the wait is so long.

"I was appreciative that she was proactive enough to write the order so I wouldn't have to wait but I was surprised I would have to wait a year in order to get a mammogram," said Rodriguez.

That's because she's being sent to Northwestern's Lynn Sage Breast Center at the new Prentice Women's Hospital. It's one of the largest facilities in Illinois and one of the busiest in the country.

Last year, the hospital put out a letter apologizing for the long waits suggesting things would get better by this summer. But just this week I made a call to schedule a mammogram and was told I would have to wait until May.

Dr. Carl D'Orsi is a mammogram researcher and co-chair of the American College of Radiology's Breast Imaging Commission. He acknowledges there's a shortage of radiologists but he's bothered to hear about wait times in excess of months.

"There is no concrete time but we would like to see from a request to an appointment about a week to a week and a half," said Dr. D'Orsi. "Intuitively it would kind of make sense that if a women is given an appointment six to seven months out, she's able to forget it," said Dr. D'Orsi.

The other concern is frustrated women may never reschedule another mammogram missing an opportunity to catch breast cancer early on.

Northwestern declined an on camera interview but sent over this response: "The hospital maintains, as it has since last year, that a shortage of radiologists who are fellowship trained and accredited is the main reason it's breast imaging facility has a backlog." It goes on to say, "we were unable to replace these physicians promptly, therefore creating extended wait times. While this reduction in scheduling was essential in order to maintain our approach to personalized patient care, it did exacerbate unacceptable wait times in the range of 10 months."

Northwestern says it's made arrangement for women who can't be accommodated there to be able to go elsewhere.

ABC7 checked with six other hospitals in the area and all were able to schedule a mammogram within a few weeks.

"I've been putting this off and putting this off so today....walk in," said Shirley Herman , mammogram patient.

Herman took advantage of an unusual walk in program for mammograms at Advocate Trinity Hospital on Chicago's South Side. The community hospital boasts state of the art equipment and nine board certified radiologists.

So how do you know you are getting a quality mammogram? Here's some tips from the American Cancer Society:

  • Ask to see FDA certification proving the facility meets high professional standards and quality
  • Ask if a board certified radiologist is interpreting the exam
  • Look for a facility that specializes and does many mammograms a day

"I would tell women they are their own best proponents...they should go to these facilities and ask these questions," said Dr. D'Orsi.

Northwestern says it has hired four new breast imaging physicians and is hopeful the center will be will be back up to speed by some time early next year.

Advocate Trinity Hospital
2320 E. 93rd St.
Chicago, Il. 60617

Northwestern Memorial Hospital
251 E. Huron St.
Chicago, Il. 60611

American College of Radiology

National Breast Cancer Coalition
Toll-free number: 1-800-622-2838

National Cancer Institute
Toll-free number: 1-800-422-6237 (1-800-4-CANCER)

Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Toll-free number: 1-877-465-6636

Breast Cancer Network of Strength (formerly Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization)
Toll-free number: 1-800-221-2141, 1-800-986-9505 (Spanish)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Toll-free number: 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO)

*Inclusion on this list does not imply endorsement

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