We’ve featured stories on the importance of patient access to medical imaging before, but in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this post highlights the importance of image access for breast cancer patients.
Imaging is a critical piece of a breast cancer diagnosis and care plan. In recent years, advancements in imaging have led to earlier diagnoses and better care for breast cancer patients. These advancements include digital mammography (approved by the FDA in 2000) and 3D mammography (approved in 2011). These improvements in imaging have helped care teams better understand the specific form of cancer in a patient’s body and tailor personalized treatment plans. Advanced forms of imaging are a critical and potentially life-saving part of breast cancer treatment, but these images are only helpful so long as they are accessible.
Image access may seem like an insignificant part of cancer treatment, but easy access or lack thereof can greatly impact the patient experience. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is frightening and overwhelming, and patients often receive a barrage of information that it is difficult to process. One patient we spoke to emphasized the importance of having someone with her at appointments to take notes, allowing her to listen, process, and ask questions. Images are just one more thing to keep track of in addition to doctors’ notes, prescriptions, and referrals.
Easy access to images can help ease the logistical burden on patients and allow them to focus on treatment.
Women’s health and imaging centers can improve the patient experience by providing access to images through patient portals. With the tools to view and share their images from the cloud at any time, patients have more agency in their treatment. Providing access to images also demonstrates that a practice is committed to breaking the silos in healthcare and putting the patient first.
Easy access to imaging is important not just from a logistical standpoint, but from a treatment standpoint as well. Many breast cancer patients choose to get second opinions before starting treatment and many insurers actually require it. When visiting specialists at different hospitals, it is critical but not always easy to bring diagnostic imaging. If the images cannot be electronically shared then the patient must mail or physically bring the scans to the new doctor’s office so they could be read prior to her appointment. In some cases, the inability to share images is not just an inconvenience but an impediment to receiving the right care.
When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she sought opinions from 3 different physicians at 3 different facilities. One physician performed diagnostic image that was, at the time, not widely accepted as necessary for breast cancer patients. Given the results of the scan this doctor recommended a less aggressive treatment option. Another physician who did not have access to that scan recommended a much more aggressive treatment plan. My mother was left to decide between vastly different recommendations from physicians with different sets of information about her cancer. The disconnect between systems and lack of image sharing capabilities made a hard decision even harder. If breast cancer patients have access to their diagnostic imaging, they have access to better care.
Women’s health and imaging centers can use patient portals to set the new standard for accessible sharing and patient-centered care. Breast cancer treatment can be complicated and scary, but accessing diagnostic images should not be.