The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on radiology, resulting in a sharp drop in imaging volume, a significant increase in working remotely and major changes in clinical operations in radiology departments and practices across the world.
But as the health care industry struggles to control the virus and scientists work on a potential vaccine, radiologists in some parts of the U.S. and the world are returning to their practices — with proper protocols in place — or are planning to reopen soon.
Faced with this challenge, many radiologists are asking one question: How do we return to a normal operation — or as near to normal as possible — after the initial COVID-19 surge?
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“Working together to manage the process is critical,” said Christopher Filippi, MD, a diagnostic radiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital-Northwell Health in New York City, and a member of the RSNA COVID-19 Task Force, which leads RSNA’s development of educational resources to assist radiologists in navigating the pandemic.
The task force has issued recommendations on best practices related to radiology and COVID-19, including, “Post-COVID-19 Surge Radiology Preparedness,” a paper focusing on approaches to reopening elective, screening and other time-sensitive examinations that were postponed when the pandemic hit.
“The biggest challenges will be operational, and some of that relates to radiologists’ ability to deliver radiology services to patients who need them,” Dr. Filippi said. “When we begin this process of delivering services to people who need it, we have to ensure we can practice safely in the COVID era, and part of that will involve a lot of work around operational efficiencies as we ramp up, particularly regarding physical distancing.
“So, we have all of these complicated operational issues to work through — even in the outpatient setting,” Dr. Filippi added. “How do you schedule patients? How do you separate them? There is a real hunger for that kind of information from other radiology practices around the country that face similar challenges. And certainly, for example, with breast cancer screening, we really need to get back on track. That will be a big emphasis.”
A Backlog of Imaging Studies
Early in the pandemic, Gary Luker, MD, editor of Radiology: Imaging Cancer, and Adeline Boettcher, scientific editor, authored an article in the journal, “Transitioning to a New Normal after COVID-19: Preparing to Get Back on Track for Cancer Imaging,” predicting a huge backlog of postponed and rescheduled imaging studies will create a surge in demand that will tax the capacities of scanner time and personnel.