Health Buzz: Long Mammogram Wait Times in NYC

Screening tests you should and shouldn't consider; when a hospital is bad for you.

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Audit: Women Wait Months for Mammograms

Women have had to wait "dangerously" long times for mammograms at some New York City hospitals, according to a city audit released Wednesday. Of the waiting times at nine public hospitals during the 2009 fiscal year, the worst delays were at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens. Women had to wait 148 days for routine screening mammograms, and 50 working days for diagnostic mammograms, which are needed when doctors suspect a woman may have cancer. At Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center and Kings County Hospital Center, both in Brooklyn, women waited 28 and 21 days for diagnostic mammograms. City policies, meanwhile, recommend that the wait for routine screening be no longer than two weeks. "For years, city policy has emphasized the need for women to get mammograms," John Liu, the city comptroller, said in a press statement. "Unfortunately, significant shortfalls and lapses at city hospitals have undercut that intent and worse yet placed women in jeopardy." Some hospital officials, however, say the system has improved within the last two years. Ana Marengo, a spokeswoman for the municipal hospital system, told the Wall Street Journal that women can receive diagnostic mammograms within 24 to 72 hours. She said: "We absolutely refute their conclusion that there are any dangerous delays to patients."

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  • 11 Screening Tests You Should (or Shouldn't) Consider

    Getting your blood drawn to measure the good and bad cholesterol, having a blood pressure cuff wrapped around your arm to check for hypertension—these are examples of medical screening tests that have become a familiar part of a routine checkup or physical. But which screening tests make sense for different individuals, and at what age they should be performed, are issues for debate. Here's a quick guide to some of the common tests, to help you decide which are appropriate for you and your family.

    1. Screening for high cholesterol. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends a blood test to measure "bad," "good," and total cholesterol (it says every five years is a reasonable interval) for all men 35 and older and for men 20 to 35 who are at increased risk of heart disease. Women 20 and older at higher risk of heart disease should also be screened. But the USPSTF makes no recommendation for or against screening men 20 to 35 or women 20 and over who aren't at higher risk of heart disease, saying there's not enough information on the net benefit. The American Heart Association recommends screening all adults over age 20 every five years.

    2. Screening for high blood pressure. The USPSTF recommends hypertension screening for adults 18 and older using the standard blood pressure test. The agency doesn't suggest a specific interval (though other reports recommend two years for people with low blood pressure and annually for those with high blood pressure). The American College of Physicians and other bodies also endorse routine blood pressure checks. [Read more: 11 Screening Tests You Should (or Shouldn't) Consider.]

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    • When a Hospital Is Bad for You

      The U.S. News Best Hospitals rankings and other resources can help steer you to a top-notch hospital when a procedure or condition requires exceptional skill. For routine care, such as repairing a torn rotator cuff or inserting a heart stent, most hospitals will do a fine job. Still, "most" is not "all." Sometimes a particular hospital can be the right choice for some patients but the wrong one for you.

      There aren't many hospitals so terrible that they're lethal. A 50 percent death rate or other glaring red flag would prompt padlocks on the doors. But you don't want a place that has little experience with your surgical or medical needs—or is less alert than it should be for anything that could go wrong. Rates of postsurgical complications such as bleeding, infection, and sudden kidney failure vary surprisingly little, according to a study last year of nearly 200 hospitals across the country.