A different mammogram experience

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology Social Work

JUNE 24, 2019

Spa MassageThis recent article from The New York Times is about putting the glam in mammograms.

When Shawna Peters, a cybersecurity recruiter in St. Paul, Minn., heard about a V.I.P. night including chair massages and goody bags with mints, lip balms and pedicure accessories, she signed right up. Never mind that she'd have to get a mammogram to earn those perks.

Mammograms are such a literal pain — unless you are the kind of person who likes having her breast smashed against squeezing plates — that Ms. Peters, 44, said she always puts off getting one. "It's like going to the dentist, having your teeth cleaned," she said. But with the nearby Fairview clinic in Eagan, Minn., dangling extras, Ms. Peters ended up enjoying her appointment.

"The chair massage," she said, "is just super icing on the cake."

Fairview's V.I.P. nights are part of a new strategy many medical clinics are undertaking to make mammograms more appealing. Sweetening appointments with beverage bars, warm robes and soothing sound baths puts a relaxed spin on the experience, and is also a way to sell the rest of a hospital's offerings to women, who tend to be the medical decision makers in their families. Call it the dawning of the age of the "mammoglam."

This is all pretty amazing and reflects one of the growing edges of health care in our country. There seems to be no end to the growing divide between the lucky and the not so fortunate, the haves and the have-nots. Of course another growth edge is the shuttering of smaller hospitals and rural clinics and rising costs for everyone. I am not even sure what I think about mammoglams other than the obvious: that anything that gets women to have the annual exam is a good strategy.

None of us look forward to the appointment, and those of us who have had breast cancer often approach the day with real anxiety. For some women, it is returning to the moment and the scene of their first worries, and their experience is a kind of PTSD. No chair massage is going to take away the anxiety and memories of the first diagnosis.

Certainly it is important that a mammogram facility is bright and clean and as pleasant an environment as possible. Most of us are more comfortable in something that is not overtly hospital-like and sterile. More important, however, is that the machines offer the best possible technology and that radiologists be skilled and, if possible, present. It is a very big help to have a mammogram read while you are still at the facility and to be given the information immediately. Receiving a phone call or a letter days later leaves much too much space for worry. My own list for ideal mammogram sites would include: ease of making appointments, attractive and comfortable changing and waiting areas, kind and engaging technicians, the best possible equipment, an on-the-spot report. Bonus points could be awarded for tea, coffee, and snacks being available, current magazines on the waiting room tables, easy (and maybe even free) parking, and colorful robes instead of hospital johnnies.

This all reminds me of stories I have read about infusion areas in some big urban hospitals. As far as I know, none of the hospitals in Boston have these possibilities, but I have heard about others that offer pedicures during chemo or ways to arrange to pick up dinner to take home. Pedicures sound not so wise (and maybe not even so smart with all the concerns about infection), but good take out could make the evening easier for a lot of families. Giving careful thought to benefits that really could improve the experience, not just add a sparkly gloss, would be wonderful.

Read about mammograms at BIDMC.

What do you think about glamming up mammograms? Do you have other ideas to make the experience more pleasant? Share your story

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.