Op-Ed: A Commitment to Safe, Timely Mammograms


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Video and sketch courtesy of NYPD

By Julius Wool, Executive Director, Queens Hospital Center
In the wake of the release of New York City Comptroller John Liu’s recent audit of mammogram wait times at public hospitals, it is easy to see why many women in Queens would be disheartened and led to believe that a routine mammogram exam is not within their reach. But that is simply not the case. As a Daily News editorial points out, the auditors relied on old and outdated data.

The fact is there are no dangerous wait times for women who have a lump or other urgent symptoms.

The outdated data did not capture the current state of mammograms wait times at Queens Hospital Center and all other New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) hospitals and health centers across the city. Women who have an urgent need for a mammogram can get a breast exam on the same day or within 72 hours all across HHC hospitals and large clinics, including at Queens Hospital Center.

The auditors did not make the distinction between the different types of diagnostic mammograms and presented unnecessarily alarming information to the public that made it appear as if women with a lump had to wait almost 50 days, which was never the case.

A mammogram ordered when a doctor feels a lump or other problem in a patient’s breast is considered urgent and has always been given high priority. The general or more routine diagnostic mammogram usually follows an annual screening mammogram and is done to get additional breast images conducted under the guidance of a radiologist. Most clinicians consider an up to 30 day wait period for these more routine diagnostic exams as an acceptable window. These are never urgent cases. The wait time for this type of non urgent diagnostic breast exam is now zero at Queens Hospital Center and under the 30 day window at most other HHC hospitals.

We are committed to providing access to annual screening to women over 40.

Over the last few years, Queens Hospital Center has had to manage a growing demand for services and has dramatically increased its patient volume in the wake of four area hospital closures: St. John’s, St. Joseph’s, Mary Immaculate and Parkway Hospital. To address a growing demand for breast examinations, we have added mammogram capacity, allowing for an additional 50 mammogram appointments per week.

The wait time for a screening mammogram – the basic exam performed on a patient who presents with no symptoms – is now 17 days at Queens Hospital Center – well within the national standard of care for this screening exam. In fact, at least seven HHC hospitals have a zero (“0″) to 1 day wait time for a screening mammogram.

Indeed, the Health and Hospitals Corporation and Queens Hospital are in complete compliance with the guidelines established by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the American Cancer Society, and the American College of Surgeons that recommend screening mammograms in all women beginning at 40 years of age, every one to two years.

Despite growing demand and increasingly challenging financial times, HHC facilities routinely go one step further, encouraging all women over the age of 40 to have yearly mammograms, barring certain risk factors which would require screenings be performed at an earlier age.

Our commitment to the early detection and prevention of breast cancer remains intact.

Queens Hospital Center remains steadfastly committed to ensuring high quality breast healthcare for the women of central and southeast Queens. Over the last three fiscal years, we have performed more than 26,200 mammograms to women regardless of their lack of health insurance or immigration status.

We encourage all women in the community to visit our Center of Excellence in Women’s Health and to get their annual screening mammogram and other routine checkups. Once they visit our facility they will be reassured to find timely access, along with a team of compassionate caregivers who are focused on providing safe, affordable and quality healthcare to all.