In the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports from China suggested that chest CTs were an effective method of diagnosing the disease. Now, however, physicians are rethinking that idea, according to a report in Managed Healthcare Executive.

Several studies conducted early in the pandemic in China compared noncontrast chest CT scans to real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) swab testing for diagnosing COVID-19. Published online in mid-February in Radiology, a study by Yicheng Fang, of Affiliated Taizhou Hospital of Wenzhou Medical University, and colleagues found chest CT 98% sensitive for COVID-19 compared with 71% for RT-PCR. The authors suggested using CT chest screening, especially if RT-PCR testing was negative. 

But as COVID-19 spread beyond China, RT-PCR testing improved, and researchers had more time to compare those initial studies with practices in other countries. The availability of RT-PCR is still an issue in the U.S., but recommendations for using CT scans to diagnose COVID-19 haven’t been adopted by major medical organizations and societies.  

The American College of Radiology  noted in a March 11 statement that CT scans should not be used to screen for COVID-19 or as a first-line test to diagnose the disease and that they should be used “sparingly and reserved for hospitalized, symptomatic patients with specific clinical indications for CT.” The Society of Thoracic Radiology and American Society of Emergency Radiology also do not recommend routine CT screening for COVID-19. Their joint statement said chest CT scans can be restricted to patients who test positive for COVID-19 and are suspected of having complications involving the lungs.

Read more in Managed Healthcare Executive.