Sanford Vermillion touts new digital mammogram machine By Deanna Johnson
Yankton Media, Inc. In the past, Mylynn Hanson has had mammograms that she has had to repeat or have follow up ultrasounds because the results were unclear. Now she and others like her hope those days are over. Hanson has now become one of the first patients at Sanford Vermillion Medical Center to receive a digital mammography. The Sanford Vermillion Medical Center in Vermillion, partnered with the Dakota Hospital Foundation, has added the technology of a digital mammography machine to the radiology department that will allow women in the area to access the state of the art service and receive faster results. Hanson said the results of the digital mammography showed spots of concern in her breast that had never been seen before, and just one mammography was clear enough to lead to a diagnostic in Sioux Falls. "It gave me a little sense of assurance," she said. "I think for women to be able to see that the clarity is there and that hopefully it would clear up anything that would be questionable." Randy Jarvis, radiology manager for Sanford Vermillion, said the digital mammography technology was in place in May and has completely replaced film mammography in the radiology department at Sanford Vermillion. When film mammography was used, he said, the results of the mammogram had to be couriered to Sioux Falls to be read by a radiologist there. Now the results can be sent electronically, significantly decreasing the waiting time for results. "We used to tell women not to expect any results for a week," Jarvis said. "Now, we'd like to have results back in three days." Hanson said, though she did receive the official results in the mail later, she was able to view the screen of the digital mammography machine immediately and see what the physicians and radiologists were seeing. "I was totally impressed with the clarity. You could see where something was of concern. Even an inexperienced person could see it," she said. Because the image captured by a digital mammography is now digital and not in physical film form, Jarvis said, the image can be manipulated to allow radiologists and physicians to see small details and perceive potentially dangerous spots in advance. This is a vast improvement over the previous method of examining film of the mammography with the naked eye, he said. "When (physicians) are reading the images, they can actually zoom in. The level of detail is so much higher," he said. "That's ultimately what we're going for is being able to detect those things much earlier than we could before." Chief Executive Officer for Sanford Vermillion, Timothy J. Tracy, said the new digital mammography technology in Vermillion offers those in the community the ability to receive mammograms with convenience. "There is a deficit here in terms of mammography services," Tracy said. "You have to go to Sioux Falls, Yankton or Sioux City for the next nearest machine. While that's alright for people that are fluent and can travel, for those that are underserved, or uninsured, it's not." Tracy said the digital mammography technology cost about $250,000, but the Dakota Hospital Foundation, the owners of the Sanford Vermillion Medical Center building, was able to cover the cost in its entirety. The high cost of the equipment, however, will affect the cost of the procedure for the patients, he said. "It's actually more expensive (than film mammography) but that has to do more with the price of the equipment now than anything else," Tracy said. "The price of the technology is four, five times what it used to be." The medical center in Vermillion does get the number of mammogram patients necessary to pay for the digital mammography service, much less the equipment for the service, Tracy said, but the need for the service in the community justifies maintaining the expensive service. Though the service is also expensive for the patient, Tracy said, Medicaid, Medicare, the All Women Count Program and others are available to help patients cover the cost of the procedure and the hospital has been working on grants to encourage the underinsured to still schedule mammograms. "There is no reason for anyone not to access a mammography here," he said. Other than the higher cost, the only disadvantage to the digital mammography system, Jarvis said, is the "ouch factor" that is a necessary evil. "We've had women come in for (digital mammograms) and they think that they don't have to have the compression done for the exam anymore, which is the part women dislike. That's still part of the exam," Jarvis said. Tracy said many clinics across South Dakota still use film mammography, and the important issue right now is not scaring women out of getting a mammography just because it is not digital. A mammography of any kind, he said, is better than none. The vital issue, Tracy said, is that women in the community of Vermillion understand that they can receive the necessary, quality care they need right in their own hometown. "We want people to know that we have a state of the art service here and they don't need to leave the community for services," he said. "There is no better service than there is here."