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Article Type: News

Pandemic Fears Didn’t Keep Her from Her Mammogram Appointment – And it Helped Save Her Life

Sue Smith is her 90-year-old mother’s caretaker. She’s faced some real challenges with her mother’s care since the outbreak of COVID-19, but the pandemic has not stopped her efforts to ensure her family’s health and well-being.

“I’m a caretaker for many people,” she said. “I try to help them through different situations, like bringing my parents to treatments. I love taking care of my family.”

But with her recent breast cancer diagnosis, Smith is having to shift some of that focus on herself.

As a retired grandmother, Smith has had to deal with her own share of health complications throughout her life. Growing up in a rural area of North Central Kansas, she didn’t have access to very many health services as a child. It was when she arrived for an internship in Metro Kansas City – where she would eventually settle down – that she began her health journey. 

Around the time of her internship, Smith heard that her grandmother had discovered a lump. Eventually, her grandmother passed away of breast cancer.

“After that experience, I told my mom she had to get her mammograms,” Smith said. “I started bringing my parents down to Kansas City for their own physicals.”

Smith’s commitment to primary care is why she’s seen her own primary care physician (PCP) Bradley Yost, MD, for around 20 years. He’s a board-certified family medicine physician with AdventHealth Medical Group.

While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Dr. Yost’s practice in the spring (initially limiting care to acute cases), he said they’re back to their regular patient load. This is the case for AdventHealth and many other health organizations across the country.

“At this point, we have better scientific knowledge of COVID,” said William Scharf, MD, AdventHealth’s executive clinical director of quality and safety. “We understand how it’s transmitted and what we can do to reduce the risk of transmission.”

To reduce risk and keep people safe, medical facilities like Dr. Yost’s practice have introduced touchless registration and advanced cleaning procedures in waiting rooms and patient rooms. They’re keeping patients outside until staff are ready to see them, and once inside, they require patients to social distance and wear masks. And depending on the type of visit and issue, they’re relying a lot more on telehealth.

These safety measures are in place so that patients can resume primary care and other important health services that are key to early prevention and better outcomes. A 2019 study published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Internal Medicine found that adults with primary care were significantly more likely to receive more high-value care such as cancer screenings, including colorectal cancer screening and mammography.

While AdventHealth did see a substantial drop in screening mammograms and colonoscopies in the early months of the pandemic, Dr. Scharf assures that the health system is getting caught up. In fact, mammography rates are higher now than when the pandemic first hit.

“It’s possible that the extensive work that’s been done to assure the safety of our patients has worked,” he said. “It’s too early to tell for sure how things will pan out, but our recovery curve is very positive. The point is, if you missed a screening in April or May, you can come back and get on track.”

While Smith contemplated delaying her mammogram back in June, she said she’s glad she kept her appointment instead of risking being scheduled in a later month. Her prognosis is positive and she recently underwent surgery.

“I feel comfortable with my prognosis,” Smith said. “The team is wonderful. They’ve put me at ease and I feel very safe here.”