October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
The Department of Veterans Affairs leads the Nation in breast cancer screening rates. VA has outperformed other health care systems in breast cancer screenings for more than 15 years — 87 percent of eligible women received mammograms in the VA health care system in fiscal year 2011.
In comparison, in calendar year 2010, the private sector screened 71 percent of eligible women, Medicare 69 percent, and Medicaid 51 percent.
As the number of women Veterans rapidly increases, VA is also focusing on improving access to breast screenings and coordination of care, as well as training providers in the latest breast exam techniques.
In celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, VA reminds patients and providers about the importance of early detection.
“We’re proud of our great record on breast cancer screenings and treatments. And we’ll continue to work to improve access and coordination of care for women Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.
VA provides mammograms for all Veterans, with 45 facilities providing services on-site utilizing digital mammography. Some facilities offer mammograms to walk-in patients and same-day ultrasounds.
“We have to be innovative about the way we provide screenings, track results and train providers in breast cancer care.”
Technology Helps Women Vets in Rural Areas
VA also offers mobile mammography in some areas of the country. This mammogram technology-on-wheels allows women Veterans in rural areas to get screening mammograms and have their mammograms read by a VA breast radiologist, without traveling far from home. All this improves access for more than 337,000 women VA health care users.
“VA is different from other health care systems in that we serve a female population that is spread across the continental United States, located in both rural and urban areas,” said Dr. Patricia Hayes, Chief Consultant for VA’s Women’s Health Services. “Because of that we have to be creative and innovative about the way we provide screenings, track a woman’s mammogram results and breast cancer care, and train our providers in the latest breast diagnostic techniques and breast cancer treatments.”
In many cases, VA is using technology to bridge the distance between providers at facilities in its 21 regions throughout the nation. VA uses simulation technology to train VA providers in the latest breast exam techniques.
Case Registry Improves Care Coordination
VA is also developing a breast cancer clinical case registry to track when a provider orders a mammogram, the results of the test, and the follow-up care provided. The system will improve care coordination and help VA track and study breast care outcomes throughout VA. It is expected to be available in 2013.
These efforts in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment are part of a larger VA initiative to enhance all health care services for women Veterans. Women comprise six percent of Veterans who use VA health care, but they are expected to make up a larger segment of all VA health care users in the future. VA is preparing for this increase by expanding access to care, enhancing facilities, training staff, and improving services for women.
Expanded outreach to women Veterans is another goal in the initiative, and VA’s Women’s Health Services regularly creates posters and messages to educate women Veterans about key women’s health issues.