Being Able to Self-Schedule a Mammogram May Increase the Chances of Completing One

Mammograms are a key screening tool in detecting breast cancer early. The recommended age to begin this screening differs, ranging from 40 to 50, though the United States Preventive Services Task Force recently lowered their recommendation to 40. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that about two-thirds of women 40 and older report having received mammograms in the past two years. A new study tried a new method to boost those numbers.

According to research recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, being allowed to schedule her own mammogram through an electronic health record self-scheduling tool was linked with a higher likelihood of a woman completing the appointment. The researchers believe this could be an option to increase preventive cancer screenings.

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Dr. Kimberly Waddell, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pennsylvania’s school of medicine, says, “Self-scheduling helps make the path to mammogram completion a little smoother, where you don’t have to find the time to call a scheduling line, wait on hold, or go back and forth trying to find an appointment that works for your schedule. Simple changes like these can have an outsized impact on preventive health screenings.”

The research involved data from more than 35,000 patient visits that took place within the University of Pennsylvania Health System between 2014 and 2019. From 2014 to 2016, self-scheduling through an online patient portal wasn’t an option. It became one after that, with patients receiving an order from their primary care provider and then clicking into a scheduling link on their portal. There was also an email reminder. Researchers looked at the completed mammogram rates within each of these time frames, pre-self-scheduling and post-self-scheduling.

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The researchers found that between the two periods studied, the rates of successful mammogram completion roughly doubled, from 22.2% to 49.7%. A roughly 13 percentage point increase was associated with self-scheduling, translating to about 4,500 more patients being screened.

This may be something relatively easy for health care providers to offer, as well.

Dr. Waddell explains, “Low-cost interventions are particularly appealing because they require fewer resources. This function was scaled across the health system in a matter of months, did not require significant clinical or staff resources, is durable over time, and was associated with the gains we saw. That all checks several boxes in terms of improving patient care without requiring much in terms of additional staff time or financial commitment.”

The team is now working on a clinical trial aimed at encouraging both doctors and their patients to complete more mammograms.

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