The Future Of Breast Centers In The U.S.

I spent a good bit of last week in Las Vegas attending and speaking at the annual conference of the National Consortium of Breast Centers (NCBC), the professional organization that defines and raises the standards for operation of quality breast centers in the United States. Interestingly enough, the conference was held at the Planet Hollywood casino resort that boasts the Las Vegas strip's best topless revue, with well-endowed "signage" everywhere one looks.

Does NCBC's choice of meeting location carry any significance for the future of mammography? What will it take to make money in the diagnostic imaging of breasts in the future of healthcare reform? What "gambles" will hospitals have to take to stay solvent? What will it take to attract women to one hospital's breast center "show" over another's?

Allow me a few words of opinion on these questions derived from sharing and learning during my few neon-filled days at the 2011 Vegas breast center extravaganza.

Firstly, there is early indication that free-standing breast centers may be "squeezed" out in favor of more comprehensive women's diagnostic imaging centers that can also provide other vital (and insured services) like women's heart and lung evaluations. Could we be slowly moving from breast to chest centers? Could one "intelligent" technology space host a myriad of diagnostic radiology? And would this be good not only for efficiency and economy in the business of health care but also for the convenience of the patient? Will it be possible to get a one-stop read on our risks for everything from breast cancer to lung function and cardiovascular health? We women, by and large, would prefer to have to take our shirts off only once. This model could work!

Secondly, I learned a lot from sharing the podium with George Marmaropoulos, Director of Healing Environments for Philips Healthcare. While most presentations were focused on technology, efficiency, and the reduction of error, George asserted that a breast center without a focus on a "patient-centered healing experience" was a thing of the past and how treating a woman as a "guest" rather than a patient produces better outcomes in both business and medical treatment.

George also shared a personal anecdote that when he is asked on an airplane what he wants to drink, he is now permanently conditioned to answer Diet Coke instead of the Diet Pepsi that he really prefers. Why? Because he knows US airlines never serve Pepsi products, he has learned to "settle" for Diet Coke. George stresses that most patients settle for the healthcare experience they get rather than search for the one they really want.

Borrowing language from the hospitality industry myself, my presentation actually described a "five-diamond" guest experience that women should come to expect from their diagnostic imaging centers. Using a girl's-best-friend diamond metaphor, a guest at a breast center should expect clarity in navigation and treatment, brilliance in education and inspiration, hope in the commitment of the hospital to the patient, size and weight in the substance of services offered, and an engagement with hospital and health care providers that is a positive one no matter what its duration.

As healthcare executives and patients/guests of the healthcare system ourselves, isn't it time we paid attention to the experience behind the technology? Countless research studies demonstrate that healing takes place equally in body, mind, and spirit. Shouldn't a redesign of the healthcare system in the United States embrace all three critical elements?

Perhaps healthcare reform should be guided by these wise words of Albert Einstein: "Not all that can be counted, counts. And not all that counts can be counted." Or maybe in keeping with the more prosaic theme of this blog: Running a breast center is like a long week at Planet Hollywood. The goal is to review as many topless images as possible, but not so many that you run out of money.

Here are some resources from George Marmaropoulos.