Radiologists urged to reschedule all nonurgent imaging in wake of COVID-19’s spread

The American College of Radiology said Tuesday that it’s urging physicians to reschedule any nonurgent, outpatient imaging visits as necessary to help keep patients and staffers safe. Providers appear to be heeding that advice at varying degrees, with some practices turning away any coughing patients.  

ACR’s updated guidance mirrors recommendations from the CDC to push back exams or other outpatient procedures that can wait “as necessary.” This includes mammography and CT cancer screenings, other nonurgent computed tomography, ultrasound, plain-film x-ray exams, and elective radiology-related procedures.

“The ACR fully supports and recommends compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance,” the college noted in its updated recommendations, later adding: “Radiologists should work with their referring physicians to review and reschedule such exams. 

For breast imaging that cannot wait, ACR offered several tips to keep practices safe. Those include keeping at least 6 feet between individuals in waiting rooms and workspaces, strictly adhering to disinfection policies, frequent hand-washing for technologists and radiologists, and increasing the time between appointments to allow for adequate cleaning.

Providers appear to be taking different approaches to continuing regular business in the wake of President Donald Trump’s recent emergency declaration.

Clay County Medical Center in Kansas, for one, said it is taking “an active approach” in its COVID-19 response. Its implementing visitor restriction policies starting Wednesday, March 18, but this “does not mean we will be discontinuing outpatient services” such as radiology, therapy, surgery or pain management.

Those scheduled for such imaging services will be screened at entry, and given a sticker indicating the process has been completed. Entrance to the hospital will be limited to the front door and emergency department, and inpatients will not be allowed company, with a few exceptions.

“By restricting visitors, we can help protect our patients and others who are most susceptible to contracting viral or infectious diseases.” CEO Austin Gillard said in a statement. “We realize this may cause an inconvenience, but we are taking this step in the best interest of our patients and team members.

Others are taking more aggressive measures to limit the disease’s spread. Steinberg Diagnostic Medical Imaging—with eight outpatient radiology facilities in Nevada—announced Monday that it will not see any patients suspected of having COVID-19 for any type of procedure. Any patient who presents with a cough will be turned away at intake.

“This is the only way to ensure that patients who are highly susceptible still have a low-risk option for the studies that their lives depend on,” CEO David Steinberg, MD, said in a March 16 statement. “COVID-19 is not the only disease we are fighting right now; patients need ports for chemotherapy, biopsies for diagnosis, people still have severe pain, and a multitude of other issues that they need answers to.”

He added that SDMI is “carefully monitoring all employees,” and those who cough or have had direct contact with coronavirus patients will be placed on 14-day quarantine. The business is promising that radiology staff will retain their positions in those instances.

“I can't have people worried about losing their homes and not being able to pay their bills," Steinberg added. "We need to be a responsible corporate neighbor and stay open to care for those that need us."

The ACR issued additional guidance on the use of CT last week, urging radiologists to deploy this clinical tool “sparingly” to assess coronavirus patients. As of late Tuesday afternoon, there have been more than 196,000 confirmed cases of the disease, with 7,866 confirmed deaths. Another 80,000-plus individuals have also recovered from it.