Methodist's Mobile 3D Mammography Coach Breaks Down Barriers
When 41-year-old Inocenta Barrera stepped onto the bright pink motorized coach last fall, she was a little nervous. She didn’t know what to expect. Friends told her it was painful, but she knew there would be more pain and fear with the unknown.
She had never had a mammogram before. Thanks to the arrival of this mobile mammography coach and the incredible care team on board, now was her chance.
Making Mammograms Accessible
When the Methodist Mobile 3D Mammography coach first hit the streets in September 2018, the goal was simple: Make mammograms more accessible to women in our communities. The first and only vehicle of its kind in the region, the coach takes 3D digital mammography screening technology on location.
“It’s really important when we talk about breast health that we address it with not only the business community, but also the underserved – those who are uninsured or underinsured,” said Sharlon Rodgers, service executive for diagnostic imaging services at Methodist Hospital. “We know the same barriers – time, convenience, cost, transportation – can plague women all over our communities to forego or postpone lifesaving screenings. We want to make sure whatever we can do to eliminate those barriers, we get done.”
For some patients, hospitals can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. Methodist Mobile 3D Mammography makes screenings more accessible by going to work sites and health clinics in underserved areas.
“Today’s busy women tend to put family and career ahead of their own health care,” said Sue Collins, director of practice operations for Methodist Physicians Clinic. “Our solution is to work with employers, corporate sponsors and clinics to bring this potentially lifesaving cancer screening directly to their doorstep.”
Breaking Down Barriers
For Inocenta, having some of those barriers removed was the incentive to have her first mammogram. When she saw the opportunity for a screening at OneWorld Community Health Center in South Omaha, she signed up immediately.
“I had heard a lot lately about breast cancers, so I was most interested in having a mammogram,” Inocenta said through her interpreter. “To be honest, I didn’t feel any pain, and it was a very nice experience. The mobile coach was comfortable and the staff was very nice. The only thing that made me nervous was the result.”
Enhanced Technology Goes Mobile
Using the latest FDA-approved advanced technology, the mobile mammography team takes multiple X-rays of tissue to re-create a three-dimensional picture of the breast.
“These multiple images of breast tissue slices give doctors a clearer image of breast masses, making it easier to detect breast cancer,” Collins said. “A 3D mammogram releases the same amount of radiation as a traditional mammogram. It is of no greater risk to the patient.”
The coach can provide screenings for approximately 16 patients a day. Images are downloaded and read by Methodist radiologists. Screening results are then provided to the patient and the patient’s primary care physician within seven days.
All About the Experience
And while the technology on the coach may be what brings patients in, the radiologic technologists who staff the coach say the experience patients have during their visits is just as important.
“We have so much fun,” said Ashlee Murphy, RT (R)(M), a radiologic technologist for the Methodist Mobile 3D Mammography coach. “We try to really make it an amazing experience. We get so many patients who say, ‘For a mammogram, this is the best experience I’ve ever had.’"
"We want them to feel important for that little bit of a time they are with us,” said Kim Livingston, RT (R)(M), who also works on the coach. “Our hope is that they tell others about their good experience so they come in and get screened as well. It means so much to us that we really provide high-quality care and make it an event they remember.”
Ensuring Quality on Location
Murphy and Livingston are just two of the team members who staff the coach regularly. They focus on fun and education during the time they spend on location, but every visit means a lot of work behind the scenes.
“For every day we spend on the road, it’s about two days’ worth of work here in the office,” Murphy said. “We fill out a schedule and patient history sheets ahead of time. Depending on location, we also line up an interpreter to assist with the exams. After the day is done, we download all the images for our physicians to review.”
“Every time the coach moves, even if it’s just a few feet, the machine on board must be calibrated and go through nine quality control tests to make sure everything is working properly,” Livingston said.
“We work hard to make sure it’s a high-quality exam – from the technology we use to every personal interaction.”
Kim Livingston, RT (R)(M)
Radiologic technologist for the mammography coach
Partnerships Set the Wheels in Motion
Methodist Mobile 3D Mammography started with a partnership between Susan G. Komen Great Plains and Methodist. The entire project was made possible through donors, grateful patients and Methodist employees who together contributed more than $674,000 to purchase the coach.
“Methodist employees as well as the Harper Family Foundation played a huge role in making this entire project happen,” said Tracy Madden-McMahon, president and chief executive officer of Methodist Hospital Foundation. “More than 2,000 people in our community donated to this effort because they saw the genuine need and the importance of bringing health care directly to the people who need it.”
In addition to funding from the Methodist Hospital Foundation, Susan G. Komen Great Plains committed dollars to offset the cost of mammograms for women in the underserved community, and it partners with local businesses to provide care as part of the Promise Me Program.
Aside from financial assistance, the most important collaboration comes every day with the local businesses and clinics that bring the coach within reach of the women it serves.
“There are so many barriers to care that a lot of our patients experience, and it means a lot to us to be able to bring this service to our patients,” said Jennifer Mayhew, director of operations for OneWorld Community Health Centers Inc. “It was clear that Methodist wasn't just there to have the best technology or just to have a mobile coach, but they really thought about all the details that would make patients comfortable and feel reassured.”
For Inocenta, having access to that reassurance was everything. While she had no history of breast cancer in her family, she knew the importance of having a mammogram.
“My heart was pounding when I received the results,” said Inocenta, who got a clean bill of health. “Knowing there was no cancer was like having a weight lifted. My heart was happy.”
She plans to tell her friends about her great experience with Methodist Mobile 3D Mammography, and when the coach rolls in to the clinic again, she’ll be back for her yearly exam.
“Having a mammogram so close to home made it more convenient to come in,” Inocenta said. “The staff was very nice. Finding a smile wherever you go makes your day so much better.”