A panel of experts has published a guide on how radiology departments can best use their resources to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic

Radiology leaders share coronavirus strategies and best practices

March 19, 2020
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
Radiologists worldwide are facing a number of uncertainties in their response to the coronavirus, but experts are sharing suggestions and protocols implemented at their own practices, to help their colleagues understand where they fit into the fight against the pandemic.

The University of Washington School of Medicine, for example, has begun screening at high-flow main hospital entrances to check if incoming patients have symptoms that could be related to the coronavirus infection or carry risk factors related to travel or exposure.

“The radiology front desk serves as an additional screening site, with similar screening to that performed at the hospital front door,” said Dr. Mahmud Mossa-Basha, associate professor of radiology at the university, in a statement. “Patients who come in with respiratory symptoms who are undergoing outpatient imaging or procedures have their imaging exams canceled and are asked to follow up with their primary care physician.”

Mossa-Basha is part of a panel of radiologists assembled by the editorial board for the journal, Radiology, who have compiled policies and recommendations on how their profession can treat patients suffering from COVID-19 symptoms, while protecting hospital staff and other patients. The panelists represent healthcare institutions in Washington, New York, Georgia, California, Wisconsin and Singapore who have developed policies in conjunction with infection control experts within their institutions.

They say top priorities for radiologists should be early detection, limiting virus exposure to others, safety precautions, cleaning protocols, training, and maintenance of operations and staffing.

“We are rethinking how radiology can deliver optimal imaging and treatment while reducing unnecessary movement and congregation of patients within our hospital environment,” said Dr. Bien Soo Tan, chair of the division of radiological sciences at Singapore General Hospital, in a statement. “Teleconsultation and electronic smart appointment applications and counseling are being fast-tracked for implementation, and will have far-reaching impact on our future practice.”

Initially part of the diagnostic criteria for COVID-19, chest CT scans are now being used more for preparation in preventing the spread of the disease. This, however, has put a strain on radiology departments, which still must provide necessary support for entire hospitals and health systems.

One precaution that Emory University School in Atlanta has taken is to clean CT scanners when a patient with suspected signs of the virus undergoes scanning on one. This, however, puts CT scanners out of commission for hours. In addition, the institute is deploying methods to limit exposure to patients and staff members, without significantly disrupting workflow and delivery of care.

"Quarantine of clinical radiologists, staff, and trainees following travel to Level 3 countries and/or following exposure to patients with proven or suspected COVID-19 have the potential to quickly overburden our ability to adequately staff critical services," wrote Dr. Carolyn C. Meltzer, of Emory University School of Medicine in the panel research article. "We are working to rapidly obtain and deploy additional home workstations so that asymptomatic radiologists can work from home. While this approach does not help procedural services, it can decompress diagnostic interpretations and provide back up for surge capacity."

The recommendations were published in Radiology.

Panel participants were unable to comment at this time.