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Experts Warn Radiology Practices To Prepare For a Coming Surge

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Radiology experts are expecting a surge in demand in the coming months once routine cancer screenings finally resume.

The COVID-19 crisis has forced radiology providers to postpone all nonurgent cancer imaging across the country. But once things have settled down, however, practices are likely to be overwhelmed by the sudden influx of procedures. 

As early as now, experts recommend that hospitals and clinics should prepare for the coming surge. An editorial published by the Radiological Society of North America(RSNA) and the University of Michigan has explored such scenarios and what’s needed in terms of adequate preparation.

The editorial, Radiology: Imaging Cancer, was recently published in Michigan Medicine. Gary Luker, MD is the editor of the journal, while Adeline Boettcher, Ph.D. of the RSNA is its scientific editor.

“Even with proposed modifications to availability of scanners and examination time, most institutions already operate imaging equipment at near capacity with appointment slots during evenings and weekends,” warned Luker and Boettcher. “Trying to reschedule several months of imaging appointments likely will result in prolonged (weeks to months) wait times, which may deter many patients.” 

Other key points of the editorial:

  • Institutions face dual challenges of maintaining operations during stay-at-home safety orders and planning for a future that will not resemble our past “normal”.
  • Fear of hospitals and loss of insurance from unemployment likely will be obstacles to cancer screening and other non-emergent imaging studies.
  • A backlog of postponed and rescheduled imaging studies will create a surge that taxes capacities of scanner time and personnel.
  • The economic impact of the pandemic threatens current and future support for imaging scientists and research activities in cancer imaging and image-guided therapy.

Radiology - Woman undergoes CT Scan

Physicians generally estimate that regular appointments might start to resume during the month of May. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except that there will be a continued need for social distancing and additional safety protocols. 

To complicate matters even further, layoffs of staffers and patients losing their health insurance add to prolonging the amount of time to get back to normalcy– probably taking as long as 6 to 12 months, noted Luker and Boettcher.

According to experts tapped by Luker and Boettcher for the editorial, patients are most likely to continue to receive routine cancer screenings, once the pandemic ends. These same experts, however, pointed out that some may remain fearful of going out into public, especially individuals undergoing chemotherapy who are at increased risk of severe COVID-19 infection. Additionally, others who are in remission may choose to avoid follow-up imaging.

“In this regard, it will be important that clinics emphasize that they will take every precaution necessary to keep these patients safe and protected during their appointments,” reminded the authors, suggesting additional measures such as dedicated entrances and traffic patterns for specifically for immunocompromised patients.

Meanwhile, in countries where hospitals have already resumed normal cancer screenings (such as in China), the vast majority of patients and procedures are likely still in a holding pattern. Luker and Boettcher have suggested that telehealth appointments are one way to get subjects to “reengage in cancer imaging studies.” Reminders via email, mobile messaging, and social media applications might also prove helpful. 

Whether it’s routine procedures or medical studies, practices should expect social-distancing policies remain in force into 2021. Even when operations start returning to some semblance of normalcy, hospitals and clinics should prepare for this reality to not just protect staff and customers, but to also provide for additional sanitation measures such as more frequent cleaning for imaging rooms and equipment. 

(Source: Radiology Business)

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