Apprehension, fear or nervousness can greet many women as they walk through the doors of a mammography clinic.
That experience is just what Maj. David Semerad and his team hopes to soften by providing exceptional care by seasoned technicians.
“We just pay attention to some of those little details that make the patient experience more positive,” said Semerad, Madigan Army Medical Center’s chief of Breast Imaging Service.
Just one of three facilities in the Department of Defense to be named a Center of Excellence, the Breast Imaging Service here takes patient safety, quality and satisfaction very seriously, he said.
“We’re not just strong in mammography; we’re strong in breast ultrasound, we’re strong in breast ultrasound guided biopsy, and we’re strong in what’s called stereotactic biopsy of the breast,” he said, explaining that a stereotactic biopsy uses a computer to take measurements of very small areas of the breast. They can also perform breast MRIs to help identify all tumors that a patient may have before surgery, or to better screen patients with an elevated lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.
“We can be thought of as sort of a hub or a one-stop shop for breast questions of any kind,” Semerad said.
The feature that truly sets Madigan’s Breast Imaging Service apart, though, is their clinical component, he said.
“We are one of kind here at Madigan … nobody else has a clinical arm to its radiology operation, and that’s what we have,” said Semerad, noting that their nurse practitioners have women’s health backgrounds and essentially do everything a woman needs that does not technically fall into the radiology field but is radiology-related.
“That partnership is one of the huge things that makes us stand apart,” he said.
Their clinic also takes special care of those few women who do need biopsies.
“Something that we do really well here at Madigan is we really make the biopsy experience a positive experience for our patients, and I feel like we’re able to do this better than anybody else in the area,” Semerad said.
If a patient is identified as needing a biopsy, the nurse practitioners will schedule the procedure within two weeks, offer the patient education counseling on what to expect, and evaluate if the patient needs any special accommodations. Afterwards, those same nurse practitioners will notify the patient of her biopsy results.
“They’ve already met this patient because they’ve done the education class; they’ve helped answer their questions, so that bond is really special,” said Semerad.
While statistically most biopsies get negative results, the clinic is prepared to become the epicenter of a patients’ care if they do get positive biopsies, he said.
“At that point, we are the hub of everything that’s breast-related for that patient. We are essentially directing referrals to the Breast Cancer Pathway… and we’re also going to see that patient back year after year after year,” Semerad said. The Breast Cancer Pathway is Madigan’s multi-disciplinary team which works with patients after they’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. Patients with breast cancer are also entered into the clinic’s high-risk population, where they are followed closely as those who experience breast cancer once are at risk for having it again.
“We also are the tip of the spear regarding the hospital’s survivorship program. Our nurse practitioners in radiology are actually leading the way helping the hospital formulate its first cancer survivorship program, and we’re going to use breast cancer as our pilot,” Semerad said, explaining that survivorship is everything that is entailed in that woman’s future healthcare after living through cancer, to include peer support and follow-up care and screenings.
Semerad stressed the importance of women scheduling mammograms as a regular part of their preventative health care.
“I think screening mammograms offers women the chance to fight cancer in the event that it does happen. It offers them a fighting chance, a chance at early diagnosis, and every woman in this country has that right,” he said.