The Quebec College of Physicians Report on Mammogram Errors, April 2012
All of us at BCAM are profoundly distressed at the recent news about errors in a spate of mammogram interpretations in Quebec. Our thoughts are with the 109 women now faced with previously-undiagnosed breast cancer, some of them dealing with seriously advanced disease. We also extend our sympathy to the hundreds of others forced to endure this extremely stressful review process.
The emotional toll on everyone involved is overwhelming, and serves to bolster the now-familiar argument for both oversight and accountability in the mammography process. Quebec isn’t the first province to be confronted by such a crisis, but if the government chooses to take immediate action to prevent further incidents, it could set the standard for breast screening programs right across the country.
BCAM strongly supports all the Quebec College of Physicians’ recommendations for the improvement of mammography screening, and encourages their immediate implementation. They include peer review of radiologists’ work, a technological update of film X-rays to their digital counterparts to enable more efficient sharing and analysis, and more uniform standards for private clinics. But we would further urge the government to commit to the active recruitment of more physicians and health care workers. And although we understand that the current economic environment often means doing more with less, we believe that an all-out effort to train more nurse practitioners and employ physicians’ assistants would free Quebec doctors to use their skills where genuinely required. This tragedy also points to the urgent need for superior diagnostic tools for the detection of breast cancer, something BCAM has been calling for for years. If the government chose to throw its considerable weight behind efforts to create a better screening methodology, the development process would be significantly accelerated.
All these issues take on a new urgency when viewed in tandem with a long-accepted fact: our aging population will inevitably be faced with an increase in cancer diagnoses. If Québec’s response to this reality is not a proactive one, the accompanying pressure on our healthcare system could precipitate a crisis of even greater magnitude than the one we face now.
And just as critically, BCAM advocates for Quebec women to be regarded as full partners in the determination of their own healthcare. The nature and quality of that care needs to be transparent; women must become active participants in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of our health issues, and have access to all the associated information within the healthcare system. And it’s essential that that professionals within that system formally recognize and engage in that partnership.
One last note. The age of the radiologist involved in many of the misinterpreted mammograms was raised several times in the media. BCAM believes that the issue of competency is not necessarily tied to age, and that the avoidance of such a nightmare in the future is contingent upon stringent oversight of all healthcare professionals working in such critical areas... regardless of age or seniority.