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Total CT scans dropped 20% in 2020 due to COVID-19: IMV report

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | January 21, 2021
CT X-Ray
COVID-19 caused total CT examinations to drop by 20% in 2020 compared to 2019
Total CT procedures dropped by 20% in the U.S. between 2019 and 2020 as a consequence of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Radiology and imaging departments in hospitals, associated outpatient locations, and independent imaging centers performed 73 million CT exams on fixed scanners in 2020, a significant drop from the 91.4 million performed in 2019, according to IMV Medical Information Division’s 2020 CT Market Outlook Report.

The decrease was chalked up to 70% of respondent outpatient cancellations, no-shows from fear of contracting the virus, and stay-at-home guidelines, as well as declines in CT exam volume due to declines in related elective procedures. In addition, scanning COVID-19 patients led to increased shutdown time, with 90% of respondents strengthening their disinfection routines and spending more time cleaning scanners.

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“After each COVID-19 patient, the CT scanner is considered down for 1.5-3 hours so the entire suite can be cleaned and disinfected prior to the next patient. This results in going on diversion during this time for trauma/stroke patients,” said a respondent.

The survey was conducted in August and September 2020, with respondents asked how many patient exams they conducted in January and April 2020. The estimated nationwide monthly patient exam volume in January was nearly 6.9 million but declined by about 40% to 4.2 million in April. An average of about 6.1 million were performed monthly throughout 2020, which is 45% higher than April estimates but lower than that of January.

Outpatient exams were hit hardest, dropping from 44% in 2019 to 34% in 2020, while emergency patients increased from 39% to 45%. CT procedures performed on inpatients increased from 17% to 21%. An estimated 13% of 2020 CT procedures assessed patients for or with COVID-19. Of this, 17% were inpatients and emergency patients, compared to 6% of outpatients.

One-third of respondents also experienced hiring freezes, layoffs and furloughs, or sick leave by technologists due to actual illness or fear of contracting COVID-19. One quarter reduced their operating hours or days open. As a result, 90% now see improving staff satisfaction and morale as a top department priority, behind improving patient satisfaction with their CT experience.

Updating to new CT scanners over the next three years is another challenge born out of the pandemic, with one fifth having decreased funding to purchase them or experiencing operating budget declines for CT accessories and consumables. Moreover, 20% said their original plans to order CT scanners between 2020 and 2023 have definitively or may change due to a possible delay in ordering and replacing some units, or from a reduced number of CTs ordered. The majority are still in favor of evaluating potential purchases in-person rather than virtually.

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