Radiology image exchange has been challenging for healthcare providers, but a specialty image effort has made recent progress in building a national platform for sharing mammography studies.

Specifically, Mammosphere is the leading national medical exchange network specializing in mammography and women’s imaging. Currently, the lifeIMAGE platform is utilized in approximately 1,300 hospitals and healthcare systems across the country. Efforts are now underway to expand the reach of the platform.

Mammosphere’s goal is to improve access to comparison studies and enhancing the effectiveness of breast cancer screening programs. lifeIMAGE plans to launch a low-cost version of its basic interoperable platform to accommodate smaller breast centers that are not affiliated with large hospital systems.

“There is an essential need for interoperability in mammography which will affect millions of women—healthcare decision makers—and create consumer demand for further general image exchange as well as patient ownership and control of their imaging records,” says breast imager Kathryn Pearson Peyton, MD, who founded Mammosphere. “What we are really trying to do is be a catalyst for overall interoperability.”

With an estimated 60 million women in the United States undergoing regular breast cancer screenings, Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) certified imaging centers perform nearly 40 million mammography procedures each year. Because breast tissue is unique to each person, archived images provide a benchmark for evaluating changes in tissue composition. Research shows that with increased availability of prior mammography exams, breast cancer can be detected earlier—saving lives and money.

Moreover, when a possible abnormality is found on a mammogram and the prior is unavailable, the patient is called back for additional screening. Very often, identified abnormalities are not indications of cancer, but are false positives. The average callback rate for mammography screening in the U.S. is 10 percent, compared with many European countries, where the callback rate is 1 percent to 3 percent, thanks to the efficient exchange of prior mammograms via national networks.

In the U.S., making sure women and providers have access to priors is no easy feat. Women move and change jobs, which means they get new insurance and new healthcare providers. Hospitals may not provide patients with their mammograms. All too often, the prior exam is simply inaccessible.

In 2012, in an effort to counter the problem, Pearson Peyton founded Mammosphere, a mammogram-sharing cloud that provides hospitals, imaging centers and patients with electronic access to prior mammograms. Originally a non-profit 501(c)3 in Northeast Florida, the team at Mammosphere set out to prove image sharing worked for all stakeholders.

“The University of Florida Jacksonville came on board to do our pilot project, and by adding a single high frequency image exchange center we proved that we reduced the number of exams read without the prior exams available by 48 percent and that, in turn, reduced the unnecessary callbacks by 73 percent,” said Pearson Peyton.

Pearson Peyton calls the results “huge.” Unnecessary callbacks put a drain on the healthcare system, cost money, cause anxiety for women and often deter patients from coming back for a mammogram the following year.

After just a few years, Mammosphere was going strong with 25,000 patients using the system to exchange not only mammography exams but breast ultrasounds and breast MRIs as well. But the non-profit could only take image sharing so far, and Pearson Peyton opted to partner with lifeIMAGE, the nation’s largest medical image exchange platform that enables imaging data interoperability across healthcare networks, providers and patients.

In January 2016, lifeIMAGE acquired Mammosphere and Pearson Peyton currently serves as Chair, Women’s Health Advisory Board, lifeIMAGE/Mammosphere.

Pearson Peyton says evidence shows that image exchange networks that provide accessibility to prior mammography exams benefit all stakeholders—patients, providers and payers. Specifically, the data showed earlier detection of curable breast cancer by 25 percent; a 60 percent reduction in false positive callbacks; and a 30 percent reduction in re-reads.

“This outcomes user case also proved increased patient throughput, efficiency and screening revenue as well as lowered costs for screening, diagnosis and treatment overall, resulting in improved population health,” said Pearson Peyton.

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