WINCHESTER — A local gynecologist believes regulatory overreach is to blame for Winchester Medical Center’s Diagnostic Center temporarily suspending mammogram services.

Laura N. Dabinett of the Women’s Center of Winchester at 1820 Plaza Drive, who frequently sends patients to the Diagnostic Center for mammograms, said on Tuesday the American College of Radiology (ACR) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are responsible for causing a lot of unwarranted concern among people who received mammograms at the center within the past two years.

Dabinett said her biggest worry is that women — especially those between the ages of 50 and 70, who are most at risk for developing breast cancer — will stop getting annual mammograms because they think their scans could be inaccurate.

“Mammography is important,” she said. “We know that mammograms save lives.”

Winchester Medical Center and its corporate parent, Valley Health System, announced on Monday evening that the hospital’s Diagnostic Center at 300 Campus Blvd. stopped performing mammograms on Aug. 31 after an annual inspection by the ACR, working on behalf of the FDA, raised questions about the quality of the scans.

An article published in Tuesday’s Winchester Star incorrectly stated the mammograms in question were done over the past year. The scans were done over the past two years.

Mark H. Merrill, president and chief executive officer of Valley Health, said the mammography equipment functioned properly, but inspectors determined that staff had not accurately positioned or compressed some breasts, resulting in scans that were not sufficiently sharp.

As a result, any mammogram performed at Winchester Medical Center’s Diagnostic Center during the past two years may need to be re-evaluated. If a physician recommends a patient get a follow-up mammogram, Merrill said the procedure will be offered by Valley Health at no cost.

In an email on Tuesday evening, Merrill said the Diagnostic Center provides approximately 550 mammograms each week, and that most women have the procedure performed annually.

“The radiologists [at Winchester Medical Center’s Diagnostic Center] continue to believe, notwithstanding the ACR’s findings, that the quality of the mammography images were sufficient to support clinical decisions,” Merrill said in Tuesday’s email. “To reiterate, the ACR findings do not necessarily mean that the results of any individual mammogram were inaccurate, but it does mean that some patients may need to have their mammograms re-evaluated. We are coordinating with the FDA to identify who may have been affected by this issue and will provide additional information to patients as soon as possible.”

As of Tuesday, Merrill said an information line set up by Valley Health to answer mammography questions — 888-441-5294 — had received fewer than 75 calls.

Merrill could not say when the Diagnostic Center might be cleared to start performing mammograms again.

“We are working diligently to resolve the issue so that we can continue to offer high-quality services to our community,” he wrote. “Mammography services will resume once we, the ACR and the FDA are confident all the necessary changes have been implemented.”

Christopher Nieman, the department chair of radiology and lead interpreting physician for mammography services at Winchester Medical Center, said on Monday the hospital had already received approval from the ACR on a corrective action plan and started offering additional training to the Diagnostic Center’s mammography staff.

“The focus of the training is how to position the breast to take the images,” Nieman said. “Our hope is to have the additional training done by early next week so we can start the process of being re-accredited by the American College of Radiology.”

In the meantime, Merrill wrote, “We encourage patients to discuss their mammograms with their primary care provider.”

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

(1) comment

jc9478

WMC - Please train staff to get the images right on the first attempt. I felt like a guinea pig last time, with some images being taken three times! I do not want the repeated exposure to radiation for what should be a simple procedure. Mammograms have been around for years!

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