Mobile mammography breakthrough: Breast cancer screenings surge in rural Montana communities

Mobile Mammography Bus (2)

In Montana, there are many barriers to seeking preventative healthcare, including access, transportation, and stigma. Because of this, Intermountain Health is committed to finding innovative ways to provide these services to our communities.

In the spring of 2023, St. James launched its mobile mammography coach – a 36-foot bus with one Hologic dimensions mammography machine, the same equipment used in the mammography department. The coach has a sitting area that can accommodate three people, along with two dressing rooms and a mammogram exam room. 

Since its launch, St. James has seen an increase of 624 screening mammograms last year, which is 25.4% growth from 2022. The coach covers a 150–200-mile radius, serving Butte and the surrounding communities. The mobile unit serves as a lifeline, bringing crucial breast health screenings to areas where access has long been a challenge.

“The mobile coach makes it easier to reach our rural communities,” said Jerri Doyle, Oncology service line director. “Before, many people were not getting their annual screening, or it was harder for them to get one so the closer we can get to them the better. It’s a much more streamlined process using the mobile option. It takes 15 minutes and there’s no red tape to go through. Some people won’t come to a hospital because of stigma but they don’t feel that discomfort with the coach.”

“The coach is a symbol of equitable healthcare, reaching those who once faced barriers to essential screenings,” said Maggee Christiaens, mammographer and mammography department lead. “Patients have been so grateful and appreciative that we’re making it easier to get these much-needed screenings to help detect breast cancer early. We take the bus to parks, chambers, medical facilities, health fairs, and more so there are a lot of opportunities to reach people.”

In 2023 across the Montana/Wyoming market, collective screenings increased by 10% with 1,643 more women screened than in 2022. There is one bus that covers eastern Montana out of Billings and one that covers southwest and western Montana out of Butte. Since this is the second year, the Oncology team is still learning best practices and collecting data to improve the process to reach even more people this year. Currently, the coach travels to different spots in its service area three times a week, and patients can schedule their screening or do a walk-in visit.