Emerging Tech

Women caught in wringer between Congress and inferior mammogram technology


About three weeks ago, I had my very first baseline mammogram. My OB/GYN recommended that I select a location that offered digital imaging, and so I did. Had I read this news story beforehand, however, I may have reconsidered and elected a more traditional mammogram. Check it out: "Report: Computers hinder mammogram readings." 

Dr. Ferris Hall, who works at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, claims that Medicare pays an extra $20 for mammograms that are read by computer. Hall says this financial incentive "was mandated by a heavily lobbied Congress, despite little evidence-based data in support of its value at the time."

One study, conducted by Dr. Joshua Fenton of the University of California at Davis and colleagues, examined more than 429,000 mammograms. "The research team used mammograms taken from 1998 to 2002 at 43 medical facilities in three states, seven of which switched to computer-aided detection in the middle of the study. With human-read mammograms, 98 out of every 1,000 women were mistakenly told they were free of cancer. When the readings were done with the help of a computer, that number rose to 128 out of 1,000, without significantly increasing the number of tumors that were spotted by X-ray. In addition, the researchers said the computer programs tended to focus on the least-dangerous types of cancers."

Well, do the computers at least cut down on the overall health care cost? Ha! "The researchers also estimated that if every medical center used computer-assisted detection, it would cost the U.S. health care system an extra $550 million, an increase of 18 percent in the cost of doing breast cancer screening exams."

So, let me get this straight... the computers cost more and are less accurate, but the government is offering financial incentives to use computer-aided detection instead of human-read mammograms. Can you make any sense of this?

About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.

5 comments
faradhi
faradhi

I agree with Delbert. I do not think the problem is the digital technology. It is the digital detection. That said. It amazes me how women's health issues still lags behind mens in our society where everyone should be treated equally. This is just another example. Another example is how some insurance companies covered Viagra before birth control pills. Also, Viagra is covered but any help for the women to conceive like ovulation medications are not. Well, I will get off my soap box now and just end with, those fargin bastages. edited for the new "feature" where we cannot put a subject in when commenting on a blog. GO TR!!

georgeou
georgeou

If true, sounds like someone got their lobbying money's worth.

DelbertPGH
DelbertPGH

I don't know about soft-tissue x-rays, like breast cancer screens, but for bones and such the digital seems to work great. The technicians can review the pictures immediately, and they can be read anywhere in the hospital or around town with cheap PC software, with no need for a courier to carry the films from place to place. Whenever my wife has to go for a follow-up cancer screen, the original films have to be dug out of a library at another hospital and be hand-carried. It takes five days for the hospital to retrieve them from their offsite, too. It would be much more elegant, and cheaper at this stage, if they were digitized. I sure wouldn't want a robot looking at my digital images and deciding if I was sick, though. Not until it can outscore a human.

Why Me Worry?
Why Me Worry?

Being a guy, the best part of a woman are her breasts (in my opinion), as they serve mutiple purposes and define a woman's sexuality and fertility. But, all joking and kidding aside, breast cancer is no laughing matter as my mother had it and is a survivor of it. Luckily for her, it was diagnosed early and the cancerous lump was removed before it got a chance to fully metastate and spread, saving my mom from having the dreaded mastectomy. I doubt a cure for cancer will ever be found, considering we still don't what causes it or where it truly manifests from, but we can all be proactive and push our elected idiots in Congress to support better screening processes and serious consequences for sloppy and misdiagnosed screening. Again, my apologies for the title if anyone found it offensive, but I carefully crafted it to inspire interest in what I had to say.

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