Pandemic paralysis: COVID-19 has major impact on imaging

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Medical imaging may be in a state of pandemic paralysis, according to the findings of a new survey from market research firm IMV Medical Information Division. More than 90% of imaging centers in the U.S. experienced a major decline in the volume of procedures not related to COVID-19.

Even after factoring in COVID-19 imaging, respondents said volume dropped for all 11 surveyed modalities in the U.S. Popular modalities for COVID-19 imaging, such as CT and mobile x-ray, weren't necessarily spared from sometimes drastic decreases in volume.

The findings demonstrate that medical imaging facilities have been hit hard by the pandemic. The state of affairs likely won't return to normal until health professionals have more resources to combat the novel coronavirus, according to Craig Overpeck, CEO of Science and Medicine Group, the company that operates both IMV and

"We expect this pandemic paralysis to continue at different levels in different states and countries and will not fully resolve until we have solutions in the toolbox for the detection, treatment, and prevention of COVID-19," Overpeck said during an April 29 webinar discussing the survey findings.

Procedure volumes fall

The data come from an IMV survey of more than 600 imaging facilities in the U.S. and Europe, with respondents spread throughout most U.S. states and many European countries.

A total of 92% of the respondents in the U.S. said they've experienced a major decline in noncoronavirus procedure volume due to the pandemic, and only 1% of facilities have experienced no decline at this time.

"Almost no place has been spared, and as an industry, we are experiencing a very high level of disruption," Overpeck said.

Impact on procedure volume due to novel coronavirus in U.S.
Imaging modality Procedure volume
Mobile general x-ray units -6.8%
Fixed PET and/or PET/CT -24.5%
CT scanners -37.5%
Fixed general x-ray radiography units -38.6%
Fixed C-arm systems -40.1%
Ultrasound units -42.7%
Portable C-arm units -44.6%
Fixed nuclear medicine cameras -47%
Fixed MRI scanners -47.4%
Fixed radiographic fluoroscopy systems -48.1%
X-ray mammography units -70.4%

Survey respondents in the U.S. reported that all 11 modalities they were asked about had lower procedure volumes. Modalities used for COVID-19 imaging, including CT and mobile general x-ray units, tended to be among the least affected, while x-ray mammography units were the most affected.

Almost three-quarters of respondents in the U.S. said that COVID-19 is having a significant impact on their department, rating their department disruption as 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale. Another 20% reported the impact has been neutral, with a rating of 7 or 8, and 6% said the impact was minimal, with a rating of 6 or lower.

Staffing crunch

The changes in procedure volumes have directly impacted staffing and budgets, according to Lorna Young, senior director of insights at IMV.

"The significant drop in multiple modalities that we have just seen directly impacts their operations, including staffing, operating hours, and their budgets," Young said during the webinar.

Nearly half of all respondents reported the decrease in volume contributed to staff layoffs or furloughs, and 43% said it was related to a reduction in operating hours. In the U.S., 75% of respondents said hiring, reducing, and maintaining staff is one of the most affected areas in their department during the pandemic.

"U.S. respondents were more likely to feel staff layoffs or furloughs are a top 3 concern, particularly among department heads or admins and techs," Young said.

As for the future, survey respondents said they anticipate the pandemic will decrease the average amount of money their department spends on imaging products in all 11 modalities.

radiology graph

They're also split on how long they think it'll take for volume to ramp back up. More than half of respondents think imaging volumes will return to normal in 2-3 months, but Overpeck believes the actual time to normalcy will likely depend on where you live.

"How long will all of this last? Well, the answer depends on where you live and when your area will reopen," he said. "Consumer demand will also be a driving factor in addition to a facility's ability to ramp up."

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