North Western BreastScreen initiative puts clients first

COVID-19 restrictions have led North Western BreastScreen to develop a unique client-first approach based on the needs of each person recalled to the service for further tests. 

North Western could once accommodate more than 30 visitors inside its Reading and Assessment Service. However, safety measures designed to control COVID-19 also limit the number of people that can safely share a space at the clinic. This means that the small number of clients called back to BreastScreen for further testing after their initial screen can no longer bring a support person inside with them.

Victoria Cuevas, Program Manager at North Western BreastScreen, understands the importance of support during recall consultations.

“It’s very useful to have two sets of ears listening. Often women can be overwhelmed and struggle to take in all of the information,” she said. A support person can ask questions and pick up things that clients miss.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, the clinic can accommodate 17 clients; most women still bring a support person, but they must wait outside. 

The service began several initiatives to overcome this barrier and reduce the amount of time clients spend waiting alone. For instance, after their 3D follow-up screen, also called tomosynthesis, some clients will be sent an SMS inviting them to head home once their tests are complete. The doctor will then contact them later in the day to debrief once they’ve had time to reunite with their support person and relax outside of the hospital setting. 

On sunny days, the quadrangle of the Royal Melbourne Hospital at the Royal Park campus becomes an outdoor space for clients to relax with their support person while they await further testing. Sometimes, a nurse counsellor or surgeon from North Western will typically head out to speak with the client and their loved one about the next steps and retrieve them when it’s time.

Clients are even encouraged to call their support person during consultations to hear the discussion and contribute, despite not being inside the room.

These measures can’t match the physical presence of a loved one during a recall appointment, but they go a long way in reassuring clients during what can be a stressful period.

“I think the women do appreciate the individual care,” said Victoria. “The nurse counsellors are very attentive, the doctors are very experienced, and we have a robust multidisciplinary approach to provide the safest care and advice possible. We often get thank you cards and positive feedback from women when they come back for results.”