According to a new study appearing in the American Journal of Roentgenology (AJR), immediately reading screening mammograms during the COVID-19 pandemic promises a new and improved paradigm—reducing care disparities, while increasing the speed of diagnostic workup.

“The immediate-read screening mammography program reduced prior racial and ethnic disparities in same-day diagnostic imaging after abnormal screening mammograms,” writes first author Brian N. Dontchos, MD, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

In May 2020, Dontchos and his colleagues implemented a program wherein a dedicated breast imaging radiologist interpreted all screening mammograms in real-time, with patients receiving their results before being discharged. A separate radiologist made efforts to perform any recommended diagnostic imaging during the same visit. The team then retrospectively identified screening mammograms performed from June 1, 2019, to October 31, 2019, (pre-implementation; 8,222 examinations) or June 1, 2020, to October 31, 2020, (post-implementation; 7,235 examinations). Moreover, 521 and 359 patients had abnormal screening examinations, respectively.

Before implementing this immediate-read screening mammography program, patients with races other than white had lower odds than white patients of having same-day diagnostic imaging after abnormal screening examinations (adjusted odds ratio [OR]: 0.30; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.10, 0.86; p=.03). After implementation, these odds were not significantly different (OR: 0.92; 95% CI: 0.50, 1.71; p=.80).

Responding to the Society of Breast Imaging’s recommendation to reduce patient hospital visits during COVID-19, “we believe the practice is sustainable and not limited to only a transient period of lower-than-normal screening volumes,” the authors of the AJR article note.