The backlog in mammograms during the COVID-19 pandemic

At its onset, the COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted medical care, as millions of elective procedures were postponed or canceled. While the volume of many procedures rebounded by the end of July 2020, the disruption caused a massive backlog. In a recent article in Health Services Research, LDI Associate Fellow and postdoctoral researcher Alon Bergman and his co-authors study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on one common procedure, mammograms, and answer the question: When might we expect to clear the queue and return to regular operations?

Picture of many days listed on a wall calendar

Using claims data from Independence Blue Cross, a large regional health insurer, the researchers estimate that 58% of expected routine screening mammograms, and 38% of expected diagnostic mammograms, went unperformed between March 11 and July 28, 2020. The team projects how long it would take to clear this queue of missed mammograms, and find in the best case scenario it would take a minimum of 22 weeks to clear the queue. In the worst-case scenario, demand will continue to exceed capacity, and the backlog will grow.

The data only represent a single insurer and a single type of cancer screening—a fraction of patients affected by delays in nonurgent health care services. Breast cancer is not the only form of cancer with reduced screening rates. Given the importance of early detection in the management of other forms of cancer, the full implications of seemingly temporal changes to screening patterns during the pandemic may not be realized for years to come.

This story is by Alon Bergman. Read more at Penn LDI.