15 patients in N.L. require followup as review of thousands of mammograms continues

Click to play video: 'Advocates claim some disabled women denied access to mammograms'
Advocates claim some disabled women denied access to mammograms
A community group that advocates for people with disabilities claims that some women in the province have limited access to mammograms. RAPLIQ says it's been an issue for years and the provincial government needs to take action to improve accessibility. Global’s Felicia Parrillo reports. – May 4, 2022

Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador have identified 15 patients needing further consultation, as a review of thousands of mammograms viewed on incorrect monitors continues across the province.

Three of the province’s four health authorities have so far reviewed mammograms from 2,368 patients, out of a total of 10,883 patients, according to a joint news release Thursday. Discrepancies or different interpretations of the mammograms have so far been identified for six of those patients, who will require followup care.

Read more: ‘How the hell did this happen?’ More than 16,500 mammograms under review across N.L.

“The number of patients requiring followup remains low, suggesting this occurrence is a low risk to patients,” the province’s eastern, western and Labrador-Grenfell health authorities said. “Radiologists from across the province are conducting the review.”

On Monday, the province’s Central Health authority said it had identified nine patients needing further consultation, after it completed its review of mammograms from 3,087 people.

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The mammograms in question got a second look because they were viewed on screens with three-megapixel resolutions instead of the standard five megapixels. Three-megapixel screens are used for analyzing images like X-rays and CT scans, but they aren’t recommended for mammograms, officials have said.

Most images were analyzed within the past five years, though some in the Western Health region date back to 2013.

The issue was first discovered last month in Central Health facilities.

Dr. Jane Rendell, a former Central Health radiologist, said in a recent interview that she was not surprised to hear of issues within the authority’s breast-imaging program.

Read more: Newfoundland health authority reviewing about 3,000 mammograms for possible issues

In October of 2019, Rendell co-authored a letter to the province’s deputy minister of health outlining concerns about inconsistent mammography-imaging standards in the region. The letter notes that the diagnostic breast-imaging program in the town of Gander is accredited by the Canadian Association of Radiologists, whereas the program in Grand Falls-Windsor is not.

Though accreditation is voluntary, accredited breast-imaging programs must meet certain standards and be regularly assessed for compliance, Rendell said.

“The more accredited you are, the safer the public is,” she said. “That’s the whole point.”

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Officials with the provincial health authorities have said the mistake poses a low risk to patients and that the difference in resolution is nearly impossible to detect with the naked eye.

Rendell disagrees.

“If it’s your breast and they missed the calcifications in your breast because they’re reading it off the wrong monitor, it’s a problem for you,” she said. “There’s a person at the end of all of these.”

Newfoundland and Labrador’s eastern, western and Labrador-Grenfell health authorities say the review of all of the remaining mammograms may take until the end of October.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2022.

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