The Future of Breast Care

Liberty Hospital's Amy Patel fights for affordability and early detection through mammograms

“It happened all the time: women would come in for a mammogram and choose to have a 2D mammogram over our state-of-the-art 3D imaging because they couldn’t afford the expensive co-pay,” said Amy Patel, MD, breast radiologist and medical director of Liberty Hospital Women’s Imaging. “Insurance refused to cover the higher-quality 3D technology. I said, this absolutely must change.”

While working at Harvard in 2018, Dr. Patel helped pass legislation in Massachusetts that eliminated co-pays for 3D mammography. Upon arriving in Missouri and settling in at Liberty Hospital, she began working on similar legislation and was successful in getting it passed in 2018. Thanks to her input, the state of Missouri eliminated co-pays and required insurance providers to cover 3D mammograms.

Coming from this success, Dr. Patel set her sights on a new law in 2019 that would mandate insurance coverage for mammograms for young women under age 40 at high risk for breast cancer. On Christmas Eve, her fiancé urged her to finish writing the legislation so they could attend a family gathering. Dr. Patel finally sent the draft to Missouri Senator Lauren Arthur, who represents Clay County. “Senator Arthur and I were trying hard to meet a deadline that would ensure the issue was presented in the 2020 fiscal year.”

They succeeded, and Sen. Arthur introduced the legislation that ultimately passed the Missouri Senate. She and Dr. Patel celebrated when the law went into effect in August 2020. “It was a miracle that we were able to get this passed during the pandemic, but we also knew how important it was for women,” Dr. Patel said.

This driving passion to be an advocate for women’s health is nothing new to Dr. Patel. She returned to Northwest Missouri from Boston in 2018 to serve a population of women she knew well from growing up in Chillicothe, Mo.

“Missouri has one of the highest rates of breast cancer deaths, particularly for women who are black or Hispanic,” Dr. Patel says. “Our team at Liberty Hospital wants to change that.”

After watching the number of women who receive routine mammograms take a sharp downturn in 2020 during the pandemic, Dr. Patel and her team push to remind women not to skip their routine exams but to be seen in 2021 as soon as possible.

“Right now, the numbers that worry me the most are rising rates of breast cancer deaths because women have skipped or delayed annual screening mammograms. Research shows that skipping even one screening mammogram can raise the risk of dying from breast cancer because we won’t catch it when cancer is in its earliest stages and more easily treatable.”

Technology is another priority. Stand-alone imaging centers typically don’t have the state-of-the-art equipment found at a hospital. “Since 2019, we’ve been utilizing artificial intelligence – AI – that references more than 450K examples to help better diagnose breast cancers when I’m on the fence about what I see,” Dr. Patel says. “Liberty Hospital is the only breast center in Kansas City with AI breast ultrasound technology, and I’ve found it to be incredibly valuable for detecting cancers early.”

Understanding how important the imaging experience is for women, Liberty Hospital designed a setting that offers a simple yet pampering environment for women who come for an annual mammogram and a caring and reassuring journey for those diagnosed with breast cancer. A nurse navigator works one-on-one with patients who require treatment and presents them with a personalized plan and clear path forward. For women who require surgery, Dr. Elizabeth Butler of Saint Luke’s Cancer Institute at Liberty Hospital sees her patients in the same building as the breast care center, making the experience as easy as possible.

“Dr. Butler is the only fellowship-trained breast surgeon in the Northland, and truly she is one of the best in the country, which is tremendous for our patients,” Dr. Patel said.       

In a first for the region, Liberty Hospital recently partnered with breast cancer survivors to design a unique support program for recently diagnosed women that offers care in a one-on-one setting rather than in a group. Breast cancer survivors volunteer to be paired with women who recently have been diagnosed to offer hope, reassurance, and answers to questions. “Women helping women is truly powerful, and our one-on-one support is first of its kind in Kansas City,” Dr. Patel said.

She hopes the support group will reach beyond Liberty Hospital to help more women in the community. This growth comes just in time for the women’s imaging clinic’s move to a new location on the second floor of the hospital’s Medical Plaza East building. The new breast care clinic at Liberty Hospital will double its current space and offer another dedicated breast radiologist, a breast reconstruction specialist, genetic counseling, high-risk breast care, and more. The new clinic is scheduled to open early this summer.

The ability to detect and treat breast cancers has advanced tremendously in recent years in terms of legislation, technology, care, and support. Liberty Hospital’s breast care clinic provides a great experience for women and instills confidence that they are receiving leading-edge care close to home in the Northland.

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