Imaging no-show rates surged 55% after social distancing policies were put in place

Following the implementation of social distancing measures last year, no shows for imaging appointments surged by 55%, according to a new analysis published Friday in Clinical Imaging.

That’s alongside a roughly 85% drop in total outpatient imaging volume during the same timeframe at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. No-show rates have normalized since then, while volume has been slower to recover. Experts hope this information can offer key clues as department leaders navigate further disruptions during the ongoing crisis.

“As the pandemic continues to unfold throughout the country, an understanding of various factors contributing to the decline and recovery of imaging volume is important for radiology practices and management,” wrote first authors Amish Doshi and Shingo Kihira, both MDs with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s Department of Diagnostic, Molecular and Interventional Radiology. “These findings may allow radiology outpatient practices to prepare for changes in imaging volumes and patient no-show based on state and local social distancing regulations and reopening,” they added later.

For the retrospective analysis, researchers analyzed data from six Sinai outpatient imaging practices—spread across Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn—between January and July 2020. They also broke down no-show rates by modality while excluding interventional radiology from the investigation.

After the emergency declaration in New York state, Mount Sinai saw a sharp rise in no-show rates beginning March 10, which peaked on April 9. At the height they saw a fivefold uptick in patients failing to arrive for their appointments, persisting across all modalities. During the baseline period from Feb. 3 to March 2, radiography, for example, logged a 3% no-show rate, which leapt up to 26% during the month following March 10.

Others also saw marked increases, including CT (from a 19% no-show rate up to 64%), MRI (29% up to 47%), PET (24% up to 55%), ultrasound (20% up to 43%), DEXA (17% to 78%), and mammography (24% to 70%).

By June 1, however, no-show rates had returned to baseline for all except radiography, which remained sluggish into the following month.

“Presumably, the general public may have been hesitant to visit healthcare facilities for fear of exposure, and a self-imposed ‘social distancing’ with respect to healthcare facilities contributed to the increased no-show rate,” the authors noted.

You can read more of their analysis in the official journal of the New York Roentgen Society here.