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At some NYC public hospitals, women have long wait for mammograms

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | May 05, 2011
New York City women at one public hospital have to wait nearly five months to undergo routine screening mammograms, according to a city audit released Wednesday.

The audit, undertaken by City Comptroller John C. Liu, found what it called "dangerously long waits" for screening and diagnostic mammograms at some of the nine public hospitals it reviewed in fiscal 2009.

The comptroller's office said three of the nine hospitals had waiting times for screening mammograms far longer than the two-week maximum required by the public system's policy. For three hospitals, Elmhurst Hospital and Queens Hospital in Queens, and Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn, wait times ranged from 41 to 148 calendar days.

And although the public hospitals don't have guidelines specifying how fast a woman should receive a diagnostic mammogram -- given to women showing possible breast cancer symptoms, such as a lump -- women at five of the audited hospitals had average wait times between 17 and 50 working days.

"For a woman who is worried she might have breast cancer, a 50-day wait for a diagnostic mammogram can be agonizing and could delay urgently needed treatment," said Lois Uttley, co-founder of New York-based initiative Raising Women's Voices for the Health Care We Need, in a statement provided by the Comptroller's office.

The longest waits for both screening and diagnostic mammograms were at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, which also performed the most mammograms: 11,425.

In a statement, Liu said the city's public hospitals have "performed admirably" in the face of budget cuts and the closure of nearby private hospitals, but that the "problems...require attention and resources so that women's lives and health are not put at risk."

But the Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs the city's 11 acute care public hospitals, disputed the comptroller's findings, arguing his office cited out-of-date data and that wait times had improved.

"We absolutely refute their conclusion that there are any dangerous delays to patients," the HHC said in a statement on its website Wednesday. "There are no delays in cases where a doctor or medical provider has determined that a mammogram is needed immediately."

HHC said the comptroller's office ignored improvements the system made over the past two years since the audit was done. HHC also said that patients with symptoms can receive a diagnostic mammogram within 24 to 72 hours.

And for screening mammograms, seven of the 11 public hospitals have a waiting time of one day or less.

"That means that the great majority of HHC patients are able to receive mammography within the 14-day target, even some on the same day of request," the group said.

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