Monday Medical: Behind the scenes

Reflecting on a year of digital mammography at YVMC

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Yampa Valley Medical Center is the presenting sponsor of the annual Bust of Steamboat on Friday. The pink-themed fundraiser for the Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project is at Three Peaks Grill from 5 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance at All That Jazz, Central Park Liquor and Three Peaks Grill.

One year ago, Yampa Valley Medical Center was proudly announcing the arrival of digital mammography service and holding an open house to show off the equipment and a brand-new suite.

This important new technology was made possible in part by generous community contributions and two fundraising events, the YVMC Auxiliary’s Rubber Ducky Race and the Healthcare Foundation for the Yampa Valley’s Penguin Plunge.

In the past 12 months, more than 2,000 women have experienced digital mammography, and they have given it an enthusiastic thumbs up. So, what do they like about it?

“It’s faster. I hear that all the time,” YVMC Women’s Imaging Coordinator Julie Isaacs said. “We no longer have to process film in the darkroom. And the process seems a little gentler due to the smoothness of the equipment and quiet atmosphere.”

With soothing décor and soft music, the YVMC mammography team has created a comfortable environment.

“One thing that hasn’t changed is that we still need good compression, because that is what provides detail on the images,” Isaacs said. “Compression also helps regulate and provide the proper amount of exposure.”

Isaacs leads a team of four experienced mammographers. When she is not performing exams, she is busy with the myriad reviews, statistics and processes that are required by regulatory and accrediting agencies.

“Since 1994, when the Mam­mography Quality Standards Act went into effect, our hospital mammography service has been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration,” Isaacs said. “We are also accredited by the American College of Radiology.”

Isaacs said YVMC performs daily, weekly, monthly and semiannual quality testing of the mammography equipment.

“Continuous surveillance of each radiologist’s interpretation data is collected and reviewed quarterly by the lead interpreting physician,” she said. “This is done both for self-assessment and as mandated by the MQSA.

“In addition, YVMC radiologists, radiologic technologists and physicists are required to complete continuing education and training.”

YVMC is inspected on-site twice a year, Isaacs added. The federal inspector who visited in July complimented Isaacs and the mammography team for a smooth conversion in October 2009 from analog to digital technology.

“We met all standards for our new technology,” Isaacs said. “There were no recommendations for improvement.”

The other annual inspection is by a Colorado physicist who tests the equipment and ensures that it is operating properly.

Although Isaacs is often immersed in technology and process, she also performs mammograms, and it is clear that she greatly enjoys connecting with her patients.

“I encourage anyone who has a question or concern regarding mammography to call me directly at 970-871-2514,” she said.

“October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when many women have their mammograms,” she said. “We work very closely with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project to make sure that all women who need mammograms can get them.”

Jan Fritz, YVMC’s director of Cancer Services, said that in the past year, the Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project paid for at least 85 mammograms for women who otherwise could not afford them. The organization also provided financial assistance for numerous other diagnostic tests and biopsies.

The primary funding source for the program is the annual Bust of Steamboat event, which the hospital has sponsored since its inception.

The 2010 Bust of Steamboat is scheduled for Friday. You can bet that Isaacs and the YVMC mammography team will be there, including the hospital’s newest radiologist, Dr. Malaika Thompson.

Thompson is subspecialty-trained in breast imaging, having completed a Women’s Imaging Fellowship at the University of Colorado Hospital in June.

“I’m proud to be a part of the breast imaging team at YVMC,” Thompson said. “I am looking forward to working closely with patients, their health care providers and the community, both on a professional and personal level.”

Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at christine.mckelvie@yvmc.org.

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