Expanding breast cancer screening in New Mexico

In rural New Mexico, where access to health care can be challenging, a new initiative is helping to expand breast cancer screening. Led by the Presbyterian Cancer Care Center and Radiology Associates of Albuquerque (RAA) in collaboration with UnitedHealthcare, the program aims to tackle the alarming disparities in mammogram access, particularly among underserved and rural communities. New Mexico is among the states that are lowest in compliance in the United States when it comes to breast cancer screening.

“There are lot of barriers to care this particular population experiences, whether it's social drivers of health, poverty, access to care, transportation or health care literacy,” said Andrea Ashton, market quality director for the UnitedHealthcare New Mexico market. “So, some of the traditional attempts at getting people in to drive performance around cancer screening, such as mailings or flyers that they may receive at a health care provider's office, may not be as effective.”

In 2024, the American Cancer Society predicts more than 310,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed. Early detection through mammography greatly increases survival rates — which is why leaders of this program decided to take a more direct approach, targeting women 45 or older who were either overdue for regular screening or had yet to undergo their first mammogram.

“We were able to supply data and drive the collaborative relationship between Radiology Associates of Albuquerque and Presbyterian Healthcare Systems. UnitedHealthcare held the relationship between all of those providers, whereas they didn't necessarily have that relationship with each other,” Andrea said.

Through this collaborative effort, UnitedHealthcare helped identify to those providers who was most in need of screening. The American Cancer Society helped to support the connection between UnitedHealthcare, RAA and Presbyterian Cancer Care Center and launched the initiative between provider groups.

The call center within RAA, staffed with people who live and work in the Albuquerque area, were able to not only offer to help set up appointments but take a human-centered approach to emphasize the importance of these screenings.

“The goal was to reach these members in a way that was very personal, talk to them on the phone, give them education about the importance of catching breast cancer early, treatment successes of catching it early, and then offering any solutions to barriers that may come up,” said Dr. Patricia Tan, a chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare, for Arizona and New Mexico.

The program was far more successful than anyone had predicted and is now being recognized by the American College of Surgeons. Some of the results include:

  • 58% of identified patients were scheduled for screenings — far exceeding the original goal of 15%
  • 71% of women who scheduled mammograms completed their screenings
  • One woman was diagnosed and treated for early-stage breast cancer

“The earlier you can catch breast cancer, the better a patient’s chances of survival are,” Dr. Tan said. With early detection, you can go on to live a long and healthy life.”

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