Every October, we recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Just two years ago, right now, you were probably rolling out your women’s health wellness fairs and promoting your mammography services online and in local papers and magazines.
So much has changed since then. While we were once gaining great strides in our breast cancer awareness and screening efforts, the pandemic undermined our work. But the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s theme for 2021–RISE: Rally In Supporting, Serving and Screening Everyone, is an inspiring call to action. As they say on their website—it’s not about the challenge we face, but the “ways in which we rise to meet that challenge.”
Covid-19 threw roadblocks in breast cancer screening as healthcare organizations stepped up to diagnose and treat pandemic patients.
Many, if not most, states issued emergency orders by April 2020 to halt elective medical procedures. According to a June 30 survey study published online in Preventive Medicine, all screening services were hard-hit, especially breast cancer screening. Researchers found that mammography screening fell more than 90 percent during April, and diagnostic mammography fell by nearly 80 percent. And the challenge hasn’t gone away. Covid surges continue, and hospitals, clinics and stand-alone facilities face rolling periods of postponed elective procedures.
It will take a collective effort to bring screening rates back to what they were and ensure the most vulnerable or underserved communities receive equal dedication. In a study by an American Cancer Society team, researchers found the decrease in breast cancer screening rates in U.S. communities of color and low income between July 2019 to 2020 reversed the advances seen between July 2018 and 2019. They stressed the need to intensify “multicomponent interventions,” including patient navigation and reminders to physicians and patients to improve cancer screening rates.
I think it’s essential to focus not on what we can’t do—but what we can. We put our heads down and stay the course. We educate, screen and support. Reach out. And marketing remains one of the most effective ways to reach out and make those crucial connections with patients and community members.
I know budget and staffing have been challenging for years, and the pandemic has only made the situation even more difficult. But the good news is that some marketing strategies that worked in the past will continue to work going forward, and new platforms continue to evolve.
Marketing is more than a meet-and-greet strategy for your hospital or clinic. In today’s world of work-from-home, social distancing and misinformation, one of its more important functions is to identify, engage and build a relationship of trust with your patients.
Develop mammography-specific marketing materials across all the previously effective channels and include the constantly emerging opportunities. A patient shouldn’t be able to walk down the street without being reminded about the need for their annual or biannual mammogram. They shouldn’t be able to pick up a magazine or visit their favorite website without hearing about breast health.
Targeted online advertising can help increase organic search rankings and attract local patients to your facility. You could also consider 15- to 60-second online ad spots that air before and after telehealth consults.
Podcasts are very effective in building trusted relationships with clients. Some have regional audiences, such as Women’s Health Happy Hour, others reach into very specific communities, like the Black Women’s Health podcast in Philadelphia. Even if your in-house expert doesn’t have time to produce their own show, becoming a guest expert on another podcast can also be effective.
Facebook Live is another option that lets you livestream an event. Viewers watch from their phone, connected TV or computer. It’s another option that allows you to connect in real time with clients. Instagram also offers a live streaming option. Newer platforms like Tik Tok and YouTube Shorts offer innovative ways to reach out to your client community and build trust in your brand.
The past year has been challenging for everyone. But even though we’ve experienced setbacks in screenings and early detection, we can get back to pre-pandemic levels (or better!) if we rise to the challenge together.
The MIP (Most Important Person) in Your Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign
I hope you’re setting aside time to celebrate and take care of your mammographers. As front-line healthcare professionals, they bear much of the burden that comes with patient care—from obtaining quality images on the most challenging body habitus, occasionally being the brunt of a problematic doctor and even forcing a smile after spotting a life-altering cancer.
I often say that a good mammographer plays the role of a healthcare professional, psychologist, educator, engineer, acrobat, even a magician ... all in about 20 minutes or less. It is a never-ending job for imaging professionals. Their responsibilities include positioning, quality control, learning new technology, regulatory compliance issues, continuing education and most importantly, patient care.
So, take time to let your imaging professionals know how much you appreciate them—whether it’s a handwritten note or in-person visits from the physicians. Maybe you celebrate with a food day (everyone loves food!). But you can take it a step further and set up a lunch-and-learn presentation with a topic on stress relief or work-life balance. This kind of recognition helps demonstrates your organization’s commitment to the staff's success and job satisfaction. It also goes a long way toward improving their interaction with the patient, one of the most significant determinants if the patient will return for a subsequent examination.
As if you need another reason to take care of your mammographers? They are among the best advocates for mammograms.
It’s good for your department, imaging volume and bottom line when your mammographers are empowered to fight for mammograms and spread the word with their family, friends and patients. So, arm them with information about how an individualized approach to breast care, including screening mammograms for the right patient, is the best way providers can catch cancers at their earliest, most treatable stage. And make sure your department incorporates personalized solutions for women at high risk and those with dense breasts.