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Survey Finds Mammography Rate Dropping

December 14, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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Mammography rates may be off as much as 4 percent this year, according to a nonscientific but still intriguing (and troubling) new survey. Why? Nobody knows for sure, but the economy, insurance costs, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force seem to be the usual suspects.

Beekley Corporation, a Bristol, Connecticut, company that makes skin markers used in mammography, surveyed 500 hospital administrators around the country. “It was a small sampling to see what we could get to begin with,” Chelsea M. Fithian told DOTmed News. Fithian is a marketing manager who led the study.

The 34 clinics that answered (representing 21 states) reported that they had performed approximately 234,313 mammograms in the first nine months of 2010 compared with 243,475 during the same period in 2009. That’s a decline of 9,162, or 3.76 percent.

The sample size is very small, obviously. The Food and Drug Administration certifies and tracks about 8,000 breast clinics. “At this point, it’s not like we can even say margins of error, because it is a small sampling, so the range is quite large,” Fithian said.

The results do jibe with another industry study. At the annual AHRA conference, held in August in Washington, DC, the consulting firm The Advisory Board Company said its own survey had found that women’s imaging declined in volume a median 7 percent during the first quarter of 2010 compared with the same period in 2009.

Both surveys showed wide variation (Beekley found one clinic reporting mammograms up 20 percent) and no discernible regional patterns.

Why is this happening, if indeed it is happening? “The economy” is always a good guess when trying to explain something negative. A medical director of a breast center interviewed for the Advisory Board study blamed rising insurance costs. Many also point to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations a year ago suggesting that women in their 40s forgo screening mammograms and that older women get screened every two years rather than annually.

This news, along with the recently reported findings that only half of women whose insurance pays for an annual mammogram actually get one, raises more questions than it answers. It does, however, suggest that a lot of work needs to be done regarding education about and access to mammography screening.

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