Lessons the Pandemic Taught Radiology

What lessons has radiology learned from the Covid-19 pandemic? That’s the question that Joe Constance, a contributing writer for Aunt Minnie, put to Drs. Mahmud Mossa-Basha, chief of radiology at the University of Washington Medical Center and chair of the RSNA’s COVID-19 task force, Arun Krishnaraj, associate professor of radiology and medical imaging at the University of Virginia and chair of the American College of Radiology’s Commission on Patient- and Family-Centered Care, and Professor Tan Bien Soo, senior consultant in the department of vascular and interventional radiology at Singapore General Hospital. Though widely separated geographically, their experiences were surprisingly similar. So what have they learned?

Many Pandemic Adaptations Will Remain

The rapid onset of the pandemic across the world put into stark relief how unprepared we were for it. Shortages of PPE, ventilators, hospital beds, and critical care facilities spurred ramped-up disinfecting procedures, temperature and symptom checks, physical separation, imaging through glass, and other measures to enhance safety as much as possible. Once a seeming peripheral novelty, telemedicine moved to the forefront for non-critical patient care, follow-ups, and regular physician visits. Remote work, telecommuting, and virtual meetings all assumed new importance as no in-person meetings and lockdowns were mandated, and the ability to do readings remotely evolved rapidly. Adaptations that have proven their worth—telecommuting, telemedicine, imaging through glass, and others likely will, with further adaptations, remain part of the radiological landscape for the foreseeable future.

Backlogs and Burnout

Upon the advent of lockdowns, many elective imaging appointments went unfilled. Now that effective vaccines are available and lockdown restrictions have ended, these imaging appointments are being rescheduled, causing backlogs. As hospitals, clinics, and imaging facilities are increasing hours and taking other measures to deal with these backlogs, burnout among radiologists and technicians is becoming increasingly likely. Medical facilities that value the welfare of their employees will adopt various methods to ensure a healthy work/life balance to reduce stress, manage caseloads, and conquer burnout.

Unintended Consequences and Future Preparedness

A consequence of pandemic-delayed imaging appointments will be elevated levels of advanced disease. What may have been caught in earlier stages by timely imaging will present a more advanced stage of disease once those delayed images acquired are read. The University of Washington Health Center has seen this trend already, and there’s no reason to think theirs is an isolated experience. There may be good news, however, as we’ve accumulated experience dealing with the pandemic.  As institutions evolved practices and procedures throughout the pandemic, and some reorganized departments and leadership, lasting changes will ensure that we can meet the next potential pandemic with greater confidence and better preparedness.

Explore these topics in depth on Aunt Minnie at: https://www.auntminnie.com/index.aspx?Sec=senl&Sub=vol21_05&Pag=dis&ItemId=132648 

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