Automating technology reminders can help encourage breast cancer screening

Automating technology can reach at-risk patients with reminders to make – and keep – breast cancer screening appointments, without burdening staff.

By | 4 minute read | January 14, 2022

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Automating technology can help encourage breast cancer screening

Every year in the United States, about 255,000 women develop breast cancer. A health system’s best tool to catch breast cancer early is through mammography, but only 67% of women over the age of 40 reported having a screening mammogram within the past two years.

With the shift to value-based care and the emergence of COVID-19, health systems are looking to adopt new ways to improve overall care. This effort includes implementing preventive care and early detection methods.

Patient engagement tools, for example, provide a way for health systems to interact and engage with patients who may present as high-risk or who may need regular preventive screening tests like a mammogram.

Studies show that alerts and reminders can encourage patients to follow through with their appointments. One study of screening mammography programs in Europe and Canada found that among women 40–74 years of age who participated in screening every 1–2 years, breast cancer mortality was reduced by 40%.

While there are clear benefits of screening, health systems can struggle to identify and reach at-risk patients as well as encourage them to make screening appointments that could reduce cancer harms.


Why regular screening needs to be prioritized in the new normal

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, many oncology practices made hard decisions about delaying vital surgeries and radiation therapy as well as preventive screening. Now that vaccines are available and healthcare providers have more information, normal operations are resuming. But patients aren’t necessarily returning.

Research shows that nearly two-thirds of patients scheduled for routine cancer screenings during the pandemic skipped their visits1. Breast cancer screening rates declined by more than 87%.2, 3

COVID-19 remains an unwelcome companion. However, ignoring regular cancer screenings is not the solution. In the United States, the American Cancer Society as well as the National Cancer Institute provide recommendations for healthcare facilities so that preventive screening can continue. Additionally, women 55 and older – who are at higher risk for COVID-19 – should continue to be screened for breast cancer every two years.

Prevention should start early and include educational information about the different types of screening that are available. From breast self-exams to mammography to genetic testing for mutations in genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2, navigating these options can be hard for patients to do on their own.

For health systems looking for ways to improve the health of their patient populations – particularly around major preventive measures such as breast cancer screening – it’s imperative to adopt a technology solution that provides timely, clinical data that can be translated into action.

Four steps to support patient engagement and help increase breast imaging adherence

There are solutions available today that provide persistent, consumer-focused engagement that can help clinicians succeed in scheduling more breast screening appointments.

With data at the center of clinical decisions, here are four ways to help turn valuable information into actionable insights for health care providers and patients:

  • Know your patient population. The right technology solution can automatically sift through large data sets and pull out individuals who are due or overdue for preventive care. This could include women ages 50 – 74, who may need breast cancer screening because they have an increased risk of breast cancer and COVID-19.
  • Anticipate risk using data. By looking at the clinical data holistically, technology can identify patients who have gaps in their care or other risk factors. This may be an overwhelming list of individuals for health systems, so it is important to develop risk assessments or put other screening methods in place that can help determine and prioritize patients in need of more immediate care. This might include patients with a family history of breast cancer.
  • Engage patients. Once individuals have been identified as priority patients, automated technology solutions can send out personalized, consistent outreach through emails, phone calls, text messages or a combination. Reminders can be customized to patient preferences and continue until action is taken.
  • Continue patient adherence. Using clinically backed data to understand an individual’s care needs is the start of providing consistent digital communication. Relevant information could encourage patients to make an appointment and follow through with preventive screening, such as a clinical breast exam or mammogram.Explore how to help your care teams identify screening opportunities among priority patients.

How automating outreach helped uncover one patient’s tumor 

A clinic in Iowa adopted IBM® Phytel® Outreach to help them improve patient engagement and close care gaps. One area this solution focuses on is identifying women who need mammograms, especially those who have an above average risk.

In this instance, a woman received her mammograms during a seven-year period but had not booked another one after her last appointment. Using Phytel Outreach, the clinic automatically determined the patient was overdue for a mammogram and sent an automated reminder.

She booked her appointment on the day of the automated reminder call. Her test results led to a follow-up visit about a week later, a breast biopsy two weeks later, and a breast cancer diagnosis five days after the biopsy with subsequent follow-ups and breast cancer treatments booked beyond that date.

Learn more about the power of patient engagement in prevention

With tools like IBM Phytel Outreach that can send automated notes to book appointments and reminders to attend, clinicians and radiologists can help engage patients to seek preventive treatment in-person or virtually.

  1. Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Breast Cancer Mortality in the US: Estimates From Collaborative Simulation Modeling. (Accessed Jan 10, 2022)
  2. COVID-19 impact on screening test volume through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer early detection program, January–June 2020, in the United States. (Accessed Jan 5 2022).
  3. Early-Stage Radiology Volume Effects and Considerations with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic: Adaptations, Risks, and Lessons Learned. (Accessed Jan 10, 2022)