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Breast Cancer Patients Have Their Say in a New Data Visualization

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A new GE Healthcare data visualization on patient experience and breast cancer reveals why women avoid regular mammograms, what variables affect patient pain levels during a scan and what hospitals can do to improve patient experience. View Full Data Visualization

Healthcare is becoming increasingly patient-centric because clinicians understand the benefits of a relaxed and happy patient. Patient Experience ranks among 93% of hospitals’ top five priorities and half have a formal structure for addressing patient experience (1) — but only 28% of all hospitals have a formal definition for what it is (2). This data is presented in a new GE Healthcare data visualization on patient experience and breast cancer developed by the GE Healthcare’s Health Economics and the Global Breast Cancer Marketing team.

This new infographic helps explain why women avoid regular mammograms, what affects patient experience during the scan and what hospitals can do to increase patient compliance via improved patient experience.

Why do women avoid regular screening?

One in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetimes, according to the website breastcancer.org. Breast cancer doesn’t always manifest itself in the same way: some patients might feel lumps, swelling, skin changes or perhaps no symptoms at all. Although there have been great medical advances, it’s still important to catch the cancer as early as possible so that treatment can be more effective. The World Health Organization estimates that about 458,000 people died from breast cancer in 2008; these figures are decreasing thanks to the advancement in treatment, earlier detection though screening and increased awareness.

One of the greatest weapons against cancer is information. Knowing your body and undergoing routine check-ups helps to detect anomalies early. The data visualization presents research that shows women avoid mammograms because of shyness, fear of pain or fear of a diagnosis confirming their condition (3). In some cases, social and economic factors are the biggest problems in the detection of cancer; if women are scared of rejection by their communities or put others’ health before their own they may be risking more than they know.

GE Healthcare’s infographic reveals several factors  that women ’s perceive as impacting their experience during a mammogram such as breast size, pressure from the technician and machine positioning; psychological factors such as anxiety and pre-conceptions about the exam (4).

One of the main reasons women avoid routine mammograms is fear that the process will be painful; however in a survey 43% of women said that their first mammogram wasn’t painful (4). Of the women who reported the experience to be painful, only 4% said it was very painful.

The GE Healthcare data visualization highlights research suggesting that contrary to the general belief, breast size is not the only factor that determines whether or not a patient will feel pain during a breast scan. The technician can make a difference in creating a pleasant or unpleasant experience for the patient. In fact, 28% of the women who did not experience pain attributed their experience to the level of compression applied by the technician during the mammogram (5).

An anxious state of mind, whether due to fear of pain or of the disease, can predispose the patient to experience pain during mammography.  The data visualization shows that 10% of the women who found a mammogram to be painful said they experienced pain because they were too anxious. Similarly, 16% of the women who did not experience pain said it was because they were at ease during the scan (4).  

Anxiety caused by the uncertainty of a diagnosis can be more stressful than knowing you have a serious illness. Stress is also a big factor affecting a woman’s experience after she has a mammogram; the stress measurement scale shows a stress level of 48 (on a scale from 0 to 80) from women waiting for the results of a breast biopsy, whereas those awaiting treatment for liver cancer experienced a stress level rating of only 28 (5). Lack of a definitive diagnostics can be more stressful than undergoing risky or invasive treatment for a serious illness.

Strategies for Patient Centric Hospitals

Designing strategies that address patient experience can result in significant benefits. Hospitals that rated high in patient satisfaction surveys experienced a 1/3 increase in their patient volume, as seen on the data visualization (6). These figures suggest that patient experience is a major factor contributing to patients returning to the same hospital, and patients recommending specific hospitals to other others.

The healthymagination study featured in the infographic suggests that hospitals should work on communication, information and logistics to improve women’s experience in relation to breast cancer diagnosis: patients want breast care  to  shift towards wellness, and to make treatment about life, not death. Instead of making mammography a means for disease detection, patients propose to make it friendlier as a means of cancer prevention. This might help to ease worries for women who are afraid of the process, and reduce the number of women who avoid screening (7).

Feedback and communication between caregivers and patients is also an essential part of their experience, and women want to be informed throughout the process. Patients want to be told about what is expected up front, to know the possible outcomes of the procedure, and to have a more humane and individual experience. Making the process as clear as possible empowers women to feel more in control of the situation.

The GE Healthcare visualization gathers data from different studies such as ‘The State of Patient Experience in American Hospitals’ by the Beryl Institute, which interviewed over 660 healthcare organizations across the US and monitored women’s experience during 3 rounds of breast cancer screening.  In total, the study collected feedback from 2,657 women regarding their mammography experience (8).

(1) Return on Investment: Increasing profitability by improving patient satisfaction, Press Ganey White paper, 2012 

(2) Media healthcare leaders intelligence, Patient Experience: Help Wanted by Gina Shaw, October 2010

(3) The state of patient experience in American hospitals-Jason A. Wolf, PH.D., executive director, The Beryl Institute, Spring 2011

(4) Two distinct groups of non-attenders in an organized mammography screening program, Arja R Aro, Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 70: 145–153, 2001

(5) Monitoring women’s experience during three rounds of breast cancer screening : results from a longitudinal study

(6) Flory, N. and Lang, E. V., (2011) Distress in the Waiting Room. Radiology. Jul;260(1):166-73

(7) Return on Investment : Increasing profitability by improving patient satisfaction, Press Ganey White paper, 2012

(8) Women for Women. (2011). GE Report