Intermountain Healthcare launches mobile mammogram unit, extends clinic hours to boost Utah screening rate

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Intermountain Healthcare’s moblile mammography unit will roll out within the month, traveling the state. Intermountain Healthcare’s goal is to increase mammogram screenings across Utah by providing extended hours at screening clinics and launching of its mobile mammography unit, adding 20,000 more screening opportunities in the next year. Utah’s mammography screening rate has continually held one of the lowest rankings in the nation for breast cancer screenings.

Taylorsville • Pat Drehobl had gone 7 years without a breast cancer screening when she noticed a bright pink-and-white trailer parked outside of the Intermountain Healthcare clinic in Taylorsville.

“I was afraid to do it,” Drehobl said Friday, “because I had a breast reduction and I still have pain and I didn’t want anybody messing around.”

Intrigued by the trailer — which looks and feels like a cozy doctor’s office on wheels — Drehobl booked an appointment and became one of the first patients to use Intermountain’s new mobile mammogram unit, which officially launched on Friday as part of a push to boost breast cancer screenings in the state.

Drehobl said the experience was convenient, lasting “maybe 20 minutes," and that the personable staff made her feel comfortable. Better yet, she said she was relieved to see her results come back with a clean bill of health.

“It wasn’t bad,” Drehobl said. “I don’t know why I waited so long.”

Intermountain is hoping to replicate that experience many times over by minimizing the hurdles that impede women from participating in an annual breast cancer screening.

In addition to the mobile unit, which is designed to visit community locations and smaller clinics that lack the latest mammography technology, Intermountain plans to extend the operating hours at its imaging centers during the month of October into the evenings and weekends to better accommodate women’s schedules.

“A lot of women don’t have the opportunity to get away from the workplace or from home between the normal hours of operation,” said Brett Parkinson, Intermountain’s Breast Care Center director.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Parkinson said demand for mammography typically spikes during that time of the year. But he said the extended clinic hours may continue beyond October if there is demand, which he expects there will be.

“We think one of the biggest barriers to mammography is convenience,” he said. “There’s also a little bit of fear.”

Unlike other mobile health care operations, Parkinson said, the mobile mammography unit will be fully integrated with the Intermountain systems. Mammograms performed there will be transferred digitally to Intermountain’s hospitals and read by the same team of pathologists as traditional mammograms, he said, combining convenience with rapid results, follow-up appointments and, if necessary, treatment.

“This is the gateway to a program for a woman who might have breast cancer,” Parkinson said. “From screening to treatment, we’re going to take care of her, because we’re a comprehensive center.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sonya Dexter will begin traveling the state in Intermountain Healthcare’s mobile mammography unit within the month. Intermountain’s goal is to offer 20,000 more screening opportunities across Utah by providing extended hours at clinics and launching its mobile unit. Utah has consistently had one of the nation's lowest mammography screening rates.

Following Friday’s launch, Intermountain intends for the mobile unit to begin traveling the greater Wasatch Front region of the state. It is expected that businesses will partner with Intermountain to provide convenient screenings for their employees, and that clinics and other primary care facilities will host the unit to provide the opportunity to their patients.

“The new mobile mammogram unit will help make this important screening more convenient by bringing the equipment to the clinic, instead of requiring a patient to travel to an off-site imaging center,” Bradley Prestwich, a family physician based in Draper, said in a prepared statement. “Faster, easier, more convenient cancer screening is an all-around win and I’m excited to have this resource brought closer for my patients.”

Parkinson said that while the extended hours at imaging centers may be temporary, the mobile until will be around for a long time.

“This is permanent,” he said. “This thing is on wheels, and it is going to travel.”

And Drehobl said that after putting her screenings off for seven years, she intends to get back into a regular schedule after visiting the mobile unit.

“I’m going to be like a groupie and follow this wherever it goes,” she said.