Unlocking the Mystery: Mammography Tracking & Navigation for Better Patient Retention

Feb 6, 2024


Mammography plays a pivotal role in the early detection of breast cancer, and it’s crucial to obtain all radiologist-recommended follow-up imaging so a complete diagnosis can be made for the patient.

The Challenge of Patient Follow-Up

However, ensuring that patients return for necessary follow-ups is a significant challenge, often compounded by the labor-intensive nature of the tracking process. This article will explore how effective mammography tracking and navigation can enhance patient retention, acknowledging the balance between technology and indispensable human interaction.

The Importance of Timely Follow-Up

Timely follow-up after a mammography screening is critical. Early detection of any issues can significantly improve treatment outcomes. Unfortunately, many patients fail to return for follow-up appointments due to fear, misunderstanding, or logistical hurdles.

Healthcare providers often encounter patients who are anxious or have misconceptions about the process. Personalized interaction is crucial in reassuring these patients and encouraging them to adhere to their follow-up schedule.

Navigation: A Multifaceted Role

The role of a breast navigator extends beyond guiding patients through their healthcare journey. Instead, it is a multifaceted role involving:

  • Emotional support.
  • Educating patients about their health.
  • Addressing their unique concerns and fears.

Consider a patient, Mrs. Johnson, who was apprehensive about her follow-up after an abnormal mammogram.

Successfully encouraging patients, such as Mrs. Johnson, to return for additional breast views or breast ultrasound often requires more than just sending test results and follow-up recommendations to their healthcare providers. Merely expecting her to obtain an order from her doctor, schedule the procedures, and return to your facility without any assistance from your practice is often unrealistic. Active involvement in guiding and facilitating this process is often necessary.

And, if you have the illusion that sending a lay letter of test results to Mrs. Johnson will motivate her to return, think again. Recent research shows that about 21% of patients say that they would skip follow-up breast imaging after an abnormal mammogram if they had to pay a deductible, and that’s just about everyone (Landwehr, 2023).

For Mrs. Johnson—a patient who, like so many others, is unsure and anxious about follow-ups and procedures—personalized communications and phone calls, education about her condition, and emotional support are often a necessity. These additional steps are vital in leading patients to adhere to their follow-up schedule and take care of their well-being.

The Promise of Technology

So what about Mammography Tracking Systems, built using sophisticated algorithms to streamline the follow-up process? While features like automated reminders, patient education resources, and efficient scheduling can help, they are not a cure-all.

Despite technological advancements, these systems require significant user input because navigation still involves humans interacting with other humans. Automated reminders become more effective when supplemented with personal follow-up calls, particularly for less responsive patients and those needing additional support.

Demand on Healthcare Staff

Breast navigation places a unique demand on healthcare staff and is labor-intensive. Tasks like making personalized follow-ups, handling patient queries, and updating records are time-consuming but essential if your breast imaging service embraces the genuine concept of breast navigation instead of merely giving it lip service.

Attempting to perform the tasks of a breast navigator is much like walking on a tightrope while trying to juggle a dozen plates simultaneously. It is challenging to sync up with the various patient schedules currently being navigated to connect with them. However, in addition, there still must be time for:

  • Reviewing tracking system alerts.
  • Creating follow-up audits and reports.
  • Updating patient records.

Balancing Technology and Personal Touch for Patient Retention

The best approach for breast navigation combines the efficiency of technology supplemented with the irreplaceable human element. This balance ensures that patients don’t feel like just another number in the system.

Using technology to aid the tracking and navigation process does not replace the personal touch that is so crucial in healthcare. For instance, while automated reminders can prompt patients, personalized communications and follow-up calls can encourage patients to book their follow-up appointments. Such a symbiosis between breast navigator and technology ensures the breast imaging practice balances its efforts to maximize follow-up imaging recommendations obtained with the labor and cost expenditures to achieve them.

Real-World Example and Success

Consider a study where the breast imaging practice implemented a tracking and personalized follow-up communication program.

The reminder system started with a traditional lay letter of results being sent to the patient clearly stating they needed to return for a recommended follow-up. Then, the practice called each patient the following week to remind them of the recommendation if they still needed to schedule a follow-up appointment. 

After this, a personalized letter was sent at the 30, 60, and 90-day mark for the next ninety days, each reminding the patient of the importance of scheduling their recommended follow-up to obtain a complete interpretation of their initial screening mammogram. This part of the program used technology made available via the partnership between the imaging practice and its mammography tracking and navigation solution’s outsourced service provider.

Within three months, the practice saw a 50% increase in patient follow-up adherence. An added benefit was their reduced screening to a diagnostic turnaround time that dropped by 35%. This is a clear example of how combining technology with personal care works.

Practical Implementation and Overcoming Challenges

Implementing a breast navigation system in a clinical setting requires careful planning. Training staff to use these systems effectively while emphasizing the importance of personalized patient interaction is vital.

Delegating tasks among the team, utilizing technology for routine tasks, and setting aside dedicated time for personal patient interaction help manage the workload. 

It’s essential to look for ways to partner with others who can perform services or tasks traditionally considered in-house responsibilities. Doing so can help to reduce costs, access specialized skills, improve efficiency, or focus more on core business activities.


Practical follow-up tracking and navigation in mammography is vital for patient retention and better health outcomes. It requires a delicate balance between leveraging technology and providing personalized patient care. Healthcare providers should strive to adopt this balanced approach to ensure that their patients receive the best possible care.


Landwehr, J. (2023, April 17). Follow-Up Breast Cancer Imaging Costs Deter People from 

Getting Care, Study Finds. Health.