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Restarting non-urgent imaging in a post-pandemic world

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | July 20, 2020
Business Affairs X-Ray
From the July 2020 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

ACR suggests that practices consider expanding hours of operation to space out exams from one another and schedule exams based on the state of the pandemic locally.

“Time-sensitive care should be deferred until at least two weeks after the peak of the local outbreak, and monitoring of institutional data is important,” said Bello.

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What to expect in a post-pandemic world
Like other healthcare specialties, the short- and long-term consequences of the pandemic for radiology are still not entirely clear. Many are concerned about backlogs of deferred exams, as well as how fast patient volumes will return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Weinstein says the pandemic has made many practices like her own aware of the changing landscape for radiology, namely in the growing adoption of teleradiology, which many radiologists are currently using to evaluate exams to minimize exposure.

"There is a changing mindset, with regard to the need for flexibility in providing clinical services, with a focus on broadening the ability to work from home, telehealth, and teleradiology," she said. “It is likely that such changes will persist after the pandemic has ended. I believe that healthcare will increasingly be delivered and received from home, improving access and timely health care delivery, and more radiologists will have home workstations for staggered shift coverage.”

The ACR guidelines encourage providers and radiologists to investigate adopting telemedicine as a practice to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases. It also notes that losses of employment and insurance among patients, along with revenue losses among practices, may change payment processes.

“ACR Advocacy has engaged CMS on accreditation requirements and has advocated for prior authorization relief from private payers,” said Bello. “The CARES Act provides for Medicare advance payments for COVID-19 emergency care, in addition to loans and other financial assistance for physician practices. Other provisions which may also apply to radiology include supplemental awards for health centers; rural healthcare services outreach, network development and small healthcare provider QI grant programs; increasing access to post-acute care during emergency period; and further expanded access to lab testing without cost sharing.”

Davenport says that healthcare in general should expect a tough road ahead of it now and for some time after the pandemic. "Health systems, because of the way that healthcare is delivered and financed in the United States (based on volume of care rather than patient outcomes), are very financially stressed at present, with many reporting losses of hundreds of millions of dollars. This lack of volume created massive budget deficits that are resulting in furloughs, layoffs, salary cuts, and retirement cuts. These are the same people saving lives and protecting the country against the pandemic, so it can feel quite unjust. While there are federal programs that offer ways to help with these budget shortfalls, they aren't sufficient to deal with the amount of money that has been lost."

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