During a time when many people are avoiding the doctor’s office due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercy Health's mobile mammography unit is bringing routine health screenings to the streets.
Two mobile coaches will visit several locations throughout the Greater Cincinnati area in February for mammography. Mercy representatives say that the quick and easy process intends to save lives through early detection of breast cancer.
“People are a little nervous still of going into the doctor's offices, into the hospital, into our center, for mammograms, but they still want to keep their care because, as we always say, cancer doesn't stop because COVID’s here,” says Jennifer Scales, manager of the women’s center at The Jewish Hospital—Mercy Health and of the mobile mammography program.
According to a study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 32% of U.S. adults have delayed or avoided routine medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers claim those who delay medical testing can miss opportunities of “early detection of new conditions, which might worsen outcomes.”
And while the rate of onsite mammograms has declined nationally, Scales says that hasn't happened locally. Scales explains that while Mercy Health’s mobile screening coach program—in use for several years—has lost its main clientele, corporations, due to the pandemic, the mobile units now are concentrating on public spaces to encourage preventative health.
Throughout the year, including in February, Mercy Health’s mobile coaches will visit locations such as public libraries, emergency centers, town halls and grocery chain stores to provide easy access to testing for patients.
According to Mercy Health, mobile patients will have private 15-minute screenings utilizing the same technology and equipment that can be found at Mercy's main locations. After registering, patients will change inside the dressing room before heading into the exam room. Three-dimensional and two-dimensional screening options are offered in the mobile coach.
Results are delivered to the patient’s doctor electronically 24 -48 hours after a patient's exam. Regardless of the results, patients will receive a letter in the mail. If that patient needs to return for any additional imaging, Mercy Health will call them.
Health and safety of the patient is the utmost priority, Scales says, which is why Mercy has implemented routine sanitation measures and guidelines.
Only two employees are inside the mobile unit—one to register a patient, and the other to assist in the mammography screening. A maximum of two patients are allowed in the van at once. While one patient registers on the electrical signage pad, the other patient is getting their mammogram.
All equipment—chairs, signage pad, counters—is wiped down after each individual use. Employees wear masks and face shields, and patients are required to wear a mask at all times in the mobile unit. The coach also has a UC-V light air purifier that constantly filters the air.
In January alone, Mercy's mobile units serviced 200 patients. Scales says this increase in mammography screenings is a product of patients feeling more aware and empowered to undergo mammograms for their own safety, even during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Scales says that mammograms are important, especially for women aged 35 and above. Self-examination is advantageous, but early signs of breast cancer can only be detected through health technology, she says.
“There's a type of informality in the breast. It can be normal and abnormal. They're called calcifications or little teeny tiny white specks—like a little sand granule—that show up on a mammogram and that can be a very, very early sign of breast cancer. No one will ever feel anything like that,” Scales says.
Currently, mammograms are the only detection tool for breast cancer.
“The earlier we find that, the better off the patient is, the less treatment she needs to have [and] the less surgery,” Scales says.
Patients can call 513-686-3300, option #1 to talk to a Mercy Health representative and find out the best date and location for their visit to the mobile coach.
A doctor’s order is not required to make an appointment. Mercy Health representatives say that most insurances cover an annual mammogram. Free screenings are also available to those who qualify. Mercy Health recommends that patients ask about financial assistance during their call.
Mercy Health Mobile Mammography is scheduled to stop by the following Greater Cincinnati locations this month:
Feb. 10 — Crestview Hills Town Center, 2781 Town Center Boulevard, Crestview Hills at 1 p.m.
Feb. 17 — West Chester Fitworks, 7060 Ridgetop Drive, West Chester at 9 a.m.
Feb. 18 — Harrison Kroger, 10477 Harrison Ave., Harrison at 1 p.m.
Feb. 22 — Milford Kroger, 1093 State Route 28, Milford at 8 a.m.
Feb. 23 — Finneytown Kroger, 8421 Winton Road, Finneytown at 12:30 p.m.
Feb. 24 — Fairfield Kroger, 560 Wessel Drive, Fairfield at 8 a.m.
Feb. 24 — Northgate Kroger, 3636 Springdale Road, Northgate at 1 p.m.
Feb. 25 — Rookwood Commons, 2367 Edmondson Road, Rookwood at 2 p.m.
A full set of dates for the mobile mammography unit is available on Mercy Health’s website.