How ‘invitations’ from Penn Medicine restored mammogram completion rates

To correct a COVID-caused lag in breast cancer screenings, Penn Medicine messaged every patient who was overdue. The rate of completed mammograms improved to 74%.

The first few waves of COVID-19 slowed life across the United States, affecting everything from attending school to eating out for dinner and going on vacation. Segments of health care were also affected: Services that were not considered immediately crucial to fighting the virus were slowed or stopped during the pandemic’s first wave.

But once Penn Medicine invited patients back to resume normal health care—including preventive care, like screenings for disease—there was some lag in numbers.

A patient receiving a mammogram.
Image: iStock/Peakstock

“As we opened up to routine outpatient care, screening rates for situations when patients didn’t have symptoms were not returning back to normal,” says Mitchell Schnall, a professor of radiology, now the senior vice president for Data and Technology Solutions at Penn Medicine, and then the head of a team focused on the “resurgence” efforts to ease patients back into outpatient care. “Although a short delay in health screening is likely not going to cause long-term health problems, we were concerned whether screening rates would stay lower and lead to a long-term impact.”

Breast cancer screening was an area, in particular, that stood out as one that the team hoped to make an impact. Screening rates, overall, had fallen to 66%, and the team knew that a significant number of women who’d been regularly getting screenings before the pandemic were now overdue.

“Mammography saves lives, so this was important and very worrisome,” says Susan Weinstein, a professor of radiology. “We needed to get women back on track and there was a huge backlog.”

But, thanks to years of work in the Center for Health Care Transformation and Innovation, there was actually something of a road map for figuring this problem out and implementing changes in real time that utilized evidence gathered in-stream.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.