With a sharp drop in the number of women having screening mammograms during the pandemic, there is reason to believe that COVID-19 may eventually be indirectly responsible for thousands of avoidable deaths in the future. Women who don’t get screened may not know that they already have breast cancer, leading to more advanced, less treatable disease – or leaving bigger side-effects – when they finally are diagnosed.

In fact, analysis suggests that as a result of the dramatic reduction in screening mammograms over the first six months of the pandemic in the US, 5,000 women may die of breast cancer over the next 10 years. The longer the pandemic continues, the higher that toll could rise.

The solution is clear: get women back in the doctor’s office for routine mammograms. But how? Patients need to be certain they are not risking contagion by getting screened. And that starts with education.

Emphasize the importance of screening

Now more than ever it’s critical to get out the message that screening saves lives. At a time when COVID-19 is on everybody’s mind, it’s important not to neglect other areas of health and wellness, such as breast health. Delaying mammograms can delay detection and treatment, with serious consequences. Screening can give patients peace of mind, along with the assurance that they are taking care of themselves.

Explain safety measures

It’s important to keep patients informed about what your facility is doing to minimize COVID-19 risk, from universal masking, to symptom screening, to cleaning procedures and distancing when possible, through such technology-enabled measures as kiosk check-ins and virtual waiting rooms.

But mammograms and ultrasounds can’t be done with social distancing and some women may not be comfortable with that. These patients should be encouraged to weigh the pros and cons of delaying screening with their doctors, and if necessary, to schedule their mammograms once they’ve been vaccinated.

Show leadership and innovation

In all the turbulence around coronavirus, leadership in any sector stands out. If your practice has adopted innovative solutions for improving care and elevating the patient experience, such as the MammoScreen AI proficiency software, it’s reassuring for women to know that. It’s the kind of leadership that helps build confidence in your services and differentiate your practice.

As the pace of vaccination picks up, more women will be getting back to their normal health routines and making those appointments they put off over the last year. Now is the time to encourage them to come in and safely #ReturnToCare. Because women’s health should not be put on hold for COVID-19.