Can you imagine the whining we would hear if men had to screen for testicular cancer by having their balls put in machine that compresses them like pancakes?
Most women I know have some sort of a mammogram anxiety story, even if they are lucky enough not to have had any experience with breast cancer. For some, it is multiple call backs, for others repeated tests, excruciatingly long waiting periods, false positives, or just the plain embarrassment of being "handled" by a male technician.
And then, of course, there is the pain -- ranging from slight discomfort at one end of the spectrum (ha, ha) to a 10 out of 10 at the other end. I have heard that mammograms are more painful for large-breasted women (from large-breasted women), and I have heard the reverse -- that they're more painful for small-breasted women (from small-breasted women). My boobs, I repeatedly tell my husband, must be the perfect size, because I honestly don't think mammograms are more than slightly uncomfortable (and believe me, I am not so good in the pain department.)
One woman I met recently said she would rather get a colonoscopy than a mammogram. (Really? My mammogram prep consists of anxiety-induced, cream cheese brownie gorging.) Unfortunately, for many women, the fear, anxiety and embarrassment surrounding the mammogram -- the "why would I put myself through that?" feeling, outweighs what they perceive the benefits to be, and they choose not to have a mammogram at all.
Why does the whole process have to be so miserable? It turns out, it doesn't. It really doesn't. I was lucky enough to find a breast imaging center in the Boston area that has totally figured it out -- it does it right. It does it so right, in fact, that for the last two years, when I left the center after my mammogram, I hopped into my car, and started laughing to myself, "I can't believe how great that was! I have to write about this." And then, because it was over and the results were good and I called a friend on the way home, and I am over 50, I forgot. Or maybe the radiation just went to my head.
I know I sound a little silly getting all excited about my mammogram place, but believe me, I have gotten silly over stupider things (you should have seen me when I discovered audio tapes for the car) and don't knock it until you've tried it (as my mom has instructed me in such cases).
The Boston Breast Diagnostic Center, in Wellesley, Massachusetts is the brainchild of Dr. Elsie Levin, a nationally recognized breast cancer expert. Dr. Levin is all about compassionate breast health care. Based on her 19 years of providing care for patients at a hospital diagnostic center, she knew the mammogram experience could be a lot better. She set off to change it by creating BBDC, the first freestanding imaging center dedicated to breast health in the Greater Boston area.
I won't bore you with the details of the technology and the credentials -- you can read all about the Aurora Dedicated Breast MRI System and all about Dr. Levin on their website. But this place is unlike any other mammogram I have ever had not only because it is state of the art, but because it is so human.
The place looks like a spa, not a medical center. "We wanted to change the patient experience and replace the clinical atmosphere of hospitals and imaging centers," Dr. Levin said. When I entered BBDC for the first time, I thought I was in the wrong place. I actually asked the receptionist if I was at the correct address. The furnishings are beautiful, the chairs and sofas are comfortable, even the lockers look like they belong at a golf club. I felt as though I was going to be taken to a massage therapist -- not to a boob squishing.
The staff treats you like you are a real person, with real anxieties. They get it. They handle you gently, apologize if the plates are a little too cold, and always treat you with the utmost respect and dignity.
Based on two years' worth of experience, they take you on time. On my second visit, I was in and out in a half hour.
Dr. Levin read my mammogram as I was getting dressed, then without delay told me everything was normal, yet invited me to her office to take a look at my pictures and answer any questions I had.
Many follow-up procedures can be done on the spot. The center has high resolution ultrasound, dedicated breast MRI, and a full compliment of biopsy techniques. "This helps alleviate the anxiety often associated with beast imaging and awaiting results, which at some centers can take weeks," Dr. Levin says. And that is big. Very big.
And let's not forget the convenience factor -- parking at BBDC is a piece of cake. There's a big parking lot out front. And it's free. Great icing on that cake, right?
Clearly, Boston Breast Diagnostic Center is the model for the future. Dr. Levin should be congratulated (and if you go, you can congratulate her in person). Was your last mammogram experience like this? I only hope more of these types of centers open up around the country -- we women deserve it.
Read more from Better After 50:
Confessions of a Netflix Addict
Your Household Products May Be Giving You Cancer
Intuition, The X Factor When It Comes To A Cancer Diagnosis
Funniest Myths To Stay Young
Technology has placed mountains of medical information at our fingertips. Knowledge is power, even if your doctor thinks a little knowledge (yours, not his) can be a dangerous thing. The reality is that being able to learn things on our own alters the balance of power in the doctor-patient relationship. We can do our own research and ask our doctors more questions. We are getting second, third and fourth opinions online from other patients who have walked down these same illness paths before us. Heck, we can even sign up for alerts on our medications and be the first to know when a generic for the all-mighty (and all-expensive) Lipitor is available.
Remember that joke that asks, "What do you call the guy who graduated at the bottom of his medical school class?" The answer is "doctor." Let's just say it: Not all doctors are created equal. And as the boomer bubble swells into the next stage of our lives, chances are, we are going to insist on the best. We have formed online communities to recommend hotels, electronics and pretty much everything else. You can expect to see an uptick on online communities that recommend doctors and hospitals.
There are sites like PatientsLikeMe that hook you up with others who share your diagnosis. This site, with about 1,000 diseases covered, is especially noteworthy, says Harvard's Herzlinger because it just organized the first patient-run clinical test. Clinical tests have remained the purview of drug companies who hope to market a profitable product. In this case, it was a bunch of patients who wanted to test lithium's effectiveness in treating Lou Gerhig's disease (ALS). They found it wasn't, but the world learned in the process that patients can take things into their own hands and not wait for Big Pharma to figure things out for them.
Baby boomers like convenience, which is why the house call movement is picking up steam. Also watch for increased evening and weekend office hours by doctors. Pharmacies already stay open late; why not your doctor?
Walgreens just opened a two-story, 27,000-sq.-ft. downtown Chicago store that represents the future of pharmacy. It offers a health clinic offering a wide range of services including vaccinations, health tests, physicals and treatments for common illnesses and minor injuries. The pharmacy also features an "Ask Your Pharmacist" desk, consultation rooms, a Health Corner space to host health and wellness community events and Express Rx kiosks for swift checkout. (There's a sushi bar and mini-spa to boot.)
Telemedicine enables patients to "see" their doctors using video conferencing or services like Skype. It eliminates distance barriers and could bring a higher level of care to those living in rural areas. It also could just make patients' lives a whole lot simpler. The doctor calls at a pre-arranged time. You can download your glucose readings straight from your hand-held meter into the computer for him to see. Herzlinger says that a phone call appointment with the doctor is in the not-too-distant future for minor health events, which would cost $30 to $50, she said.
Keeping medical records online may have made the life of your doctor's office manager easier, but up until now, they haven't done much for patient health. The reason is that there are more than 2,000 IT systems in place tracking patients and those systems, unbelievably, don't talk to each other. Watch for a common IT system that enables all your doctors to have the same information on you. No more faxing test results between offices and having things lost.
Employers are already implementing programs that reward workers with prizes and low health care premiums for maintaining a health lifestyle, such as Virgin's Healthmiles program. A website called HealthPrize collects daily compliance data from users, verifies their prescription refills, and rewards them for adherence with prizes. In the future, expect to see your insurance premiums go down if you agree to have your retina scanned when you go to the gym and wear a device that measures how much oxygen you have flowing through your blood to make sure you aren't just sitting on that exercise bike reading a book.