This Women’s Imaging Specialist Explains Why GE Is Enabling Women to Control Their Own Mammograms

In a search for better mammograms, GE put patients in charge of their experience. Victoria Stefantschitsch, Women’s Imaging Project Manager at GE Healthcare, breaks down the new tech and why it works so well. 

When it comes to breast cancer, the old adage holds true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But anxiety around mammograms causes many women to avoid getting tested as often as they should, creating a care gap that puts lives at risk.

Enter a group of GE Healthcare colleagues in France who decided it was time to take the anxiety out of breast cancer testing. Their solution: the new Senographe Pristina mammography system, an engineered “for women, by women” success story that could change the way women everywhere view their recommended screening appointment.

GE Reports sat down with Victoria Stefantschitsch, Women’s Imaging Project Manager at GE Healthcare in Toronto, to get her insider’s take on the technology and how it represents a new era of patient-focused medicine for women.

 

How did you get into your current role at GE?

My background is as a medical radiation technologist specializing in breast imaging. I worked downtown Toronto in a breast-imaging centers before coming to GE, and at the time I actually worked on GE equipment.

I was hired by GE to be a clinical applications specialist, which means that I went around to hospitals and clinics when they purchased new equipment from GE and I would support them to get up and running, such as by helping the radiologists and the technologists learn how to use their system. I did that for six years.

Now I am the Women’s Imaging Product Manager, which means I am responsible for the women’s imaging business, which encompasses both mammography, as well as Automated Breast Ultrasounds. I primarily go to customers as a technical expert in the women’s imaging field. I’m there to teach them about the systems and answer any questions that they have.

How have you been involved in the Pristina project?

I came into this role just as Pristina was being introduced to the Canadian markets. I’m really lucky to be coming in at this time. This is our new platform, our product for the future. I helped support the first installation of it in Canada, and I was able to work with the radiologists and the technologists and actually talk to patients about their experience.

How does the Pristina system differ from a typical mammogram?

The Pristina was built around one idea: to ease patient’s anxiety. Screening mammography only works if patients come back again. There’s a statistic that says that 25 to 46 percent of women will fail to return for regular screening due to anxiety or fear because of the pain associated with mammography. That’s the challenge that Pristina’s trying to help solve.

Pristina is a totally different experience than a cold, clinical room. It’s very inviting. The system was designed to promote a sense of calm. It’s elegant, nicely lit, with feminine shapes and colours. It’s curved and round and more soft. The gentle edges of the system reduce discomfort for patients. When they’re leaning into the system, everything now has rounded corner to match patient anatomy. There’s a new arm rest to replace the traditional place that the patient would grip their hands, so they can relax their arms more and this actually makes them more comfortable and can help lead to better imaging.

Apart from the design, is there anything else that makes the Pristina unique?

I think one of the most exciting things about Pristina is what we refer to as the Dueta or patient-assisted compression. This is an industry first and it actually allows patients to take their breast health and their mammogram experience into their own hands. It’s a little remote that we give to the patient and, under the supervision of the technologist, they can control the amount of compression that is applied to their breast during the exam.

It’s a way to give patients a sense of control over the exam, and we’re finding from some clinical studies that have been done and from speaking with patients that just having that sense of control over the situation is allowing them to think better about the experience. They’re reporting that they don’t feel as much pain or discomfort. In actuality, they’re getting the same amount of compression, if not more, than they would be getting if a technologist were applying it, and the image quality is just as good. 

Wow. What was the genesis of that innovation?

There have been studies, outside of GE, where they talk about the fact that if patients are in control of compression, then it actually leads to less perceived pain and better overall imaging. I think GE being innovative and forward thinking came up with a way to implement this. We’re the only system that has this.

I think one of the really important things is that during the process and the design of this, GE consulted patients, and patients were part of the design process of this system. Over 1200 patients were interviewed and consulted during the design of this system. I think that’s one of the most unique, important things about it.

I went to London, Ontario at St. Joseph’s Health Center for the first Pristina install in North America, and I stayed to talk to the patients. I asked them, “Did you notice a difference? How did you feel about it?” They were saying, “Oh my gosh, it didn’t hurt as much. It was so much faster. Everything was more rounded. I didn’t feel like it was digging into me as much.” We didn’t tell them about the changes. The fact that they noticed all of those things, I think, really speaks to the way that everything we’ve put into this system is perceivable from the patient’s perspective, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that patients were involved in every step of the process.

Does anxiety and discomfort have a negative impact on the imaging quality?

It does, for sure. If you’re really tensed and really uncomfortable, your muscles tighten up. Better imaging in mammography has nice, relaxed muscles. Any mammographer will tell you they say the word “relax” 50 times a day to people, because we like to see nice, relaxed pectoral muscles in our images, which show that we’ve gotten all of the breast tissue in. It’s one of those determining factors of quality.

Having a patient that’s more relaxed to begin with not only makes the technologist’s job easier, but it also improves the quality of the imaging itself and could even reduce the chances that they have to take additional images because they’re not getting enough of the pec muscle or they’re not able to get adequate compression. There’s a huge benefit not only to the anxiety levels of patients, but to the outcome of the images themselves. The better the image quality, the better it is for the radiologist to be able to read the images and report those mammograms accurately.

In terms of the way in which this project has been by women and for women, how has that been meaningful for you?

I think it’s meaningful and impactful to have a woman’s perspective on it. Having patients be a part of it is really, really critical. Getting a female perspective on something that’s geared towards women’s health is very important. I’m proud to work for a company that supports diversity and inclusion the way that GE does. I love that GE had announced their goal of obtaining 50/50 representation in all of the technical jobs by 2020.

Is this a trend in healthcare, to give patients more control, both in the development of products and in the actual use of the technology?

I think involving patients in general is the way that we’re moving in healthcare: making sure that patients are aware of their healthcare, taking a participatory approach to the decisions that are being made and the tests that they’re having. Having control over every single piece of equipment might not be realistic or beneficial, but in certain cases where the studies have been done and we can prove that it not only has an improved satisfaction, but also sustains the quality of the imaging, if not improving it. It’s a no-brainer.

Do you think that Pristina’s development could be a model for further development of other types of products?

Yes. There are qualified men and women in design teams, but I think ultimately you need to get the perspective and feedback of the target patients that are going to be experiencing the product. Some things work well in theory, if you’re not experienced in it, there can be missteps. It’s so vital that we include the end user, in this case it’s patients, as well as technologists who are users of the product. The technologists were consulted, as well as radiologists, during the design of this system. I’m a technologist myself, and I love the ergonomic design changes that they made. It will make technologists’ jobs easier, not only because the patients are more relaxed, but because they’ve made such great ergonomic improvements to the technology itself.

Can the Pristina do anything other than mammography?

It does traditional 2D mammography and it also does 3D digital breast tomosynthesis, 3D tomosynthesis was just introduced to the Canadian market on Pristina. Dose is always a huge topic in X-ray. GE’s 3D tomography is equivalent to the dose given in 2D mammography, and we’re the only system that does that. We have superior diagnostic accuracy at the same dose as 2D mammography. I think it’s really important to note that GE’s dedication to improving patient experience, improving the system, improving technologists and radiologists’ experience, while not compromising on dose to our patients.

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