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Aspen hospital’s mammogram re-dos rattle patients’ nerves

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado – More than 100 patients who have had mammograms at Aspen Valley Hospital in the past year are being called back in for a second screening, raising concerns among some people that the original diagnosis was inaccurate.

But AVH officials say the “over-reads” are routine and part of an audit being conducted by Invision Sally Jobe Breast Network to gain a formal affiliation with the hospital.

“They want to make sure we are doing it up to their standards,” said Elaine Gerson, the administrator of ancillary services at AVH. “Call-backs are a natural part of any mammography service, and we are doing our due diligence.”

Some patients said they were surprised and nervous when they were recently contacted by their physicians and informed that they must return for a second mammogram, even though their first one was normal several months ago.

AVH has contracted with Radiology Imaging Associates (RIA) to offer imaging services to patients for the past 10 years. Invision Sally Jobe is owned by RIA and is the organization that is leading the call-back effort at AVH.

Dr. David Hollander, a radiologist employed by RIA, left AVH in March. Since then, AVH has had interim RIA radiologists examining mammogram images.

An AVH patient said an assistant to Dr. Mindy Nagle told her on Friday, June 26, that she needed to go to the hospital on the upcoming Monday for a second mammogram. Her original mammogram was done in September.

“It was just weird the way she said it … she said there were a lot of changes at the hospital and Dr. Hollander was no longer there,” the woman said. “There was something that really didn’t feel right. It was a pretty nerve-racking weekend.”

It turned out that her second mammogram came out normal, just like the original. But she said she wonders what would have happened had the original mammogram been misread.

“The fact that it took nine months … I’d be in a much different frame of mind,” she said. “Now my confidence level is shaken.”

Hospital officials said that wasn’t the intent of the call-backs, but rather as a way to add another level of confidence, and to ensure Sally Jobe doctors that AVH is reading the images correctly.

“We understand it is something that creates anxiety [for patients],” said AVH spokeswoman Ginny Dyche. “We need to look at how we are disseminating that information and give a better script to the doctors [when delivering the message to patients].”

Dr. Laura Barke, medical director at Invision Sally Jobe Breast Centers, said she couldn’t say how many over-reads are being done at AVH, or how patients’ images were selected. She added that over-reads have occurred before at AVH as a standard auditing practice, and they are done in other hospitals as well.

“We do it all the time,” she said of double-checking a radiologist’s diagnosis. “Everyone has a slightly different perspective.”

One AVH patient was scheduled for a call-back this week, after she had a mammogram in October. At the time, she was referred to Sally Jobe in Denver. She said she questions the handling of her first diagnosis by Hollander and the treatment she received in Denver by Sally Jobe. She had considered going elsewhere for a follow-up but because the over-read mammogram at AVH is offered for free by Sally Jobe, she said she chose that route.

“I’m trying to have faith in the doctors they have,” she said. “It’s frustrating … it’s hard to know what to do.”

By having a formal affiliation with Sally Jobe, AVH will be able to offer elevated health care locally by specialists in the field.

“We’re providing smaller community hospitals with a bigger network of care,” Barke said, adding Sally Jobe has no formal affiliation with other hospitals – AVH would be the first. “It’s a unique opportunity to enrich the quality of care.”

Gerson said the affiliation with Sally Jobe will be a giant leap forward for AVH.

“We’ll have a nationally recognized breast center at our back door,” she said.

Gerson said that because AVH wasn’t ready to announce a potential partnership with Sally Jobe, patients weren’t given all of the details regarding their over-reads, which are required as part of the affiliation’s due diligence.

Barke noted that none of the follow-up mammograms have come back showing tumors or other suspicious indicators.

“There have been no instances of harm to patients, and that’s good,” she said.

Another patient said her doctor, Gail King, recently called her for a second mammogram after her first one was done last September.

“The doctor said they are being proactive,” she said. “It was a little freaky because they said I was on ‘the list,’ and that scared me a little at first.

“But I’m trying to look at it like they are doing an audit and think, ‘Wow, they are really following up.'”

AVH officials said they hope that is the message patients are receiving.

“When the women come in, they’ve had the opportunity to sit down with a Sally Jobe radiologist and understand it all better,” Dyche said, adding the pending affiliation will provide another layer of care at AVH. “We’re excited.”

csack@aspentimes.com


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