Last month, my mother went to see her primary care physician for an annual mammogram. A few days later she was scheduled for a biopsy and ultrasound, the results of which revealed she had breast cancer. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I decided to share my family’s experience with this disease, which is all relatively new to me.
The same day she received her diagnosis, my mother was told she had to retrieve a CD containing her medical images from the hospital. She alone was responsible for carrying this CD from specialists to hospitals and every facility in between.
I went with her to see the breast care specialist later that week, and I found it truly startling to see so many women seeking breast cancer treatment. At least 100 women of all ages came through the doors in the short time I was at the small facility, and they were all carrying CDs.
My mother and I went through several phases of waiting before actually seeing the physician, and it wasn’t until she was given a robe that they asked for her CD. It was not yet scratched, stolen or forgotten, which is the fear I have while handling such a critical and fragile piece of her record. While her vitals were being taken, the physician uploaded the CD and reviewed the images. Luckily, the physician was able to see the images, but I know through my work at Nuance that 20% of CDs are unreadable.
During the 15 minutes we were with the physician, we were told that my mother needed to get a high-contrast MRI from another office. In other words, the hour and a half we spent at the breast care facility was a waste of time. If the physician had been able to access to the ultrasound, mammography and biopsy studies done a month ago, she could have scheduled the MRI immediately, and we could have gotten all the necessary information ready before our first visit. Instead, we left, got an MRI and scheduled a second appointment – and hoped that the next time we arrived we would have everything we needed.
Her surgery is scheduled for the end of the month, but we aren’t even certain that is the right protocol. Since she has seen many different physicians and they cannot read all of the tests, images and reports at once, my mother – a vibrant and strong nurse – is now worried that she may have a different diagnosis altogether.
In the last month or so, we’ve had appointments with her primary care physician, the hospital, and the breast care specialist – all of whom depend on us to cart around a box of CDs and her medical reports. The care team does not communicate with each other in a streamlined, real-time fashion, forcing the patient to act as middleman while attempting to deal with her diagnosis.
The use of CDs for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment is outdated. Since I have the experience of working with many early adopters of a cloud-based imaging network, I know this not only streamlines patient care, but also removes the burden of responsibility from my mom, the patient. I would no longer have to keep my fingers crossed at every appointment that the doctor can load the CD. Instead, the physicians could access every piece of information regarding my mother’s breast cancer at any time, on any device as easily as viewing profiles on LinkedIn. Many of Nuance PowerShare’s 5,000 customers are women’s healthcare providers, and I hope this number continues to increase to better support the nearly 300,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
Over the past month, I took off my hat as a health IT expert, and simply focused on being a daughter helping my mom navigate the choppy healthcare system. As I step back from our ordeal and focus on her treatment, the benefits of the Nuance PowerShare Network have become very real to me. It’s my hope – as a woman, daughter and mother – that all women can have real-time access to mammography images for the best patient care possible in what is easily one of the scariest periods of a woman’s life.
To all the survivors, patients and their families – best wishes this Breast Cancer Awareness Month.