Go slow, avoid urge to ease safety measures when resuming elective imaging, experts advise

Radiology experts from one Seattle institution are urging their peers to avoid the temptation to pull back on safety measures as they resume elective imaging.

If anything, practices should strengthen precautions meant to protect staffers and patients from contracting COVID-19, Mahmud Mossa-Basha, MD, with the University of Washington, wrote Friday in JACR. He and colleagues believe it’s prudent to deploy a “slow ramp-up,” checking infection rates and other data every two weeks to determine whether to continue providing nonurgent care.

“As many communities and healthcare systems overcome the COVID-19 surge and resume routine elective imaging, it is important to maintain the precautions that reduced disease dissemination,” Mossa-Basha, an associate professor and chief of radiology at the UW Medical Center, and colleagues wrote May 22. “Many patients who may have actively chosen to delay their imaging may be hesitant to return to healthcare institutions, especially if they arrive to crowded waiting rooms.”

Washington state is ahead of the curve when compared to other states—passing its hospitalization peak in early April and resuming routine imaging after Gov. Jay Inslee began loosening restrictions. Since then, UW has maintained all safety measures put in place during the pandemic, including using personal protective equipment, screening visitors, and maintaining social distancing.

However, they are also now adding new protocols to help ease patient concerns and avoid backsliding. For instance, UW is launching online patient registration at outpatient centers, with text prompts to fill out forms online days before the visit. Mossa-Basha and colleagues recommended several other tips, such as reorganizing waiting rooms, staggering appointments to allow extra cleaning time, and labeling corridors for one-way traffic.

With the resumption of time-sensitive cancer therapy and diagnostic procedures, UW is also testing patients for COVID. In particular, those undergoing aerosol-generating procedures, moderate sedation, intubation or open suction must take an RT-PCR test before scheduling their procedure.

Patient anxiety remains high, according to recent opinion polls, so UW is making sure to reach out to its constituents and assure them of the safety steps taken at their centers.

“Hospitals and physicians are positioned to restore patient confidence regarding our healthcare systems and their ability to appropriately care for them,” Mossa-Basha and colleagues wrote. “A slow ramp-up of outpatient imaging would better ensure these protections, as would innovative approaches to reduce potential exposures, and improved patient communication about precautions that are being taken in order to restore patient confidence,” they added later.