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How COVID-19 Has Impacted Medical Imaging

Posted on: November 09, 2021

Bhs How Covid Impacted Imaging Blog

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world.  Many of us continue to wonder if we'll ever get back to “normal” or at least some new normal where we can move about freely and see family and friends as we once used to. 

This pandemic has certainly taken its toll on the medical community. We are continually reminded of the impact that hospitals and hospital personnel have endured because of Covid-19 and the new variants. Other areas have felt a great impact as well. As I belong to the world of medical imaging, I am going to briefly talk about how the modalities themselves have been affected. 

Since the beginning of the shut down for all elective procedures (those that are unlikely to cause harm if postponed for 1-2 months), early predictive models suggested that medical imaging would see a 50%-70% loss in volume during the pandemic. Recent studies have shown that there has been an average of approximately 55% drop in volume. Among this overall drop in volumes the modality specific drops varied. Some early figures are shown below:

  • Mammography (94%)
  • Nuclear medicine (85%) 
  • MRI (74%) 
  • Ultrasound (64%) 
  • Interventional radiology (56%) 
  • CT (46%)
  • X-ray (22%) 

This downward trend also affected revenue streams.  For example, the decrease in screening mammograms led to a decrease in related downstream studies including diagnostic mammograms, ultrasounds, and breast biopsies.  The shutdown of elective surgeries also had an impact on imaging volumes.

As hospitals begin to figure out a “new normal” and the world begins to open up, medical imaging is beginning to see an increase in volumes, though these volumes have not yet reached pre-pandemic levels the trend is continuing upward.

What we are seeing now is an increase in postponed elective imaging as patients become more comfortable coming into hospitals and imaging centers.  (Many of the safety plans that were put in place during the height of the pandemic are still being used today.)  Screening procedures and elective surgeries that were postponed have also contributed to the recent increases we are seeing. I myself have seen our volume grow steadily over the summer and into the fall season.  We did not see our usual summer slowdown. As this increase in imaging continues, whether it is a short-term surge or a trend that continues, many imaging centers and hospitals have to become creative to be able to accommodate the patients.

So, what can be done? One way is to extend the hours of operations.  Perhaps look at workflows and see if they can become more streamlined, hire more staff or perhaps use mobile imaging services to help with the demand.  Still many unknowns as we come into another winter season and a possible third surge.  One thing that remains true is imaging will need to continue and volumes will continue to increase.

Perhaps due to the unknowns your facility has lost staff and you are not able to accommodate patients as you would like. Or maybe you are a technologist that is uncomfortable signing on to a full-time position. 

This is where Barton Healthcare Staffing could help with supply and demand needs.  If you are in need of expanding your services whether extra hours or weekends, or a technologist that would prefer a short term assignment please reach out to one of our many staffing experts who can help fill vacancies.

Ready to go on assignment? Contact the Barton Healthcare Staffing team today to get started!

Susan J. Kelly, BS, CNMT
About Susan J. Kelly, BS, CNMT

Susan has been a certified nuclear medicine technologist since 1985, after receiving her Bachelors of Science in Biology, with a Concentration in Nuclear Medicine Technology from Worcester State University. She began her career as a nuclear medicine technologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and after 15 years shifted to the world of management. Susan is currently the Chief Technologist at New England PET Imaging System, providing PET/CT services in the Merrimack Valley area and southern New Hampshire.