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Stroger Hospital cuts the wait for mammograms

Thursday, October 25, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Judy Peres | Tribune staff reporter

Women who used to wait up to 12 months for breast cancer tests at Stroger Hospital can now get those tests within two or three weeks, officials said Wednesday, and a backlog of 11,000 mammograms has been wiped out.

Dr. Pamela Ganschow, director of the Cook County hospital's breast cancer screening program, said more work needs to be done, "but this is a success story." She spoke at the Adler Institute on Social Exclusion, which convened the meeting to discuss access to breast cancer care for low-income women.

The institute held a similar meeting last year involving state and local government officials, health-care providers, academics, advocacy groups and foundations. The goal of the meeting was to draft a plan for fixing a system that had led to a backlog of 11,000 women waiting for mammograms.
"There were a lot of people with different expertise," said Lynn Todman, director of the Chicago institute. "Once in the same room, they were able to make the connections needed to address the problem."

Last year's meeting identified several causes for the backlog, including federal and state funding cuts, technology and personnel shortages and the fact that Stroger had become the last resort for uninsured women in Illinois.

Ganschow said the hospital decided to stop doing routine screening mammograms -- that is, breast X-rays for women with no symptoms -- and focus on diagnostic mammography, or follow-up tests for women who have a lump or a suspicious screening test.

During the last year, her department scheduled all 4,000 diagnostic procedures on the waiting list while also handling 5,000 procedures for current patients.

The backlog of screening mammograms has also been eliminated, thanks to a partnership between Stroger and Mercy Hospital. The last 1,000 women on the list are being scheduled this month, Ganschow said.

Uninsured women in need of mammograms can contact the breast screening program at Stroger, where they can get a physical breast exam. They are then referred to the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program for their mammograms. Current cancer patients and those at high risk can still get screening mammograms at Stroger.

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