By Dhruv Chopra
As COVID-19 continues to spread across the United States, healthcare personnel are working 24/7 to treat more than 370,000 confirmed cases—more than any other country in the world. As these professionals continue to treat infected patients, they risk contracting and spreading the virus themselves. Now more than ever, determining how to best protect patients and facility personnel is critical.
Fortunately, advancements in medical technology allow some industry professionals to work remotely, joining many Americans in avoiding virus exposure and attempting to “flatten the curve.” Radiologists—who have already been instrumental in the detection and early diagnoses of COVID-19 cases—can effectively conduct their work from home with the use of teleradiology.
Teleradiology provides the same functionality for physicians as their onsite workstations, allowing radiologists to read images and diagnose from the safety of their home. As the fight against COVID-19 continues, there is a growing need to make teleradiology solutions more common.
Teleradiology and Its impact on COVID-19
Teleradiology falls under the telehealth umbrella because radiologists can interpret images and communicate with physicians electronically while working remotely. For example, cloud-based workstations and mobile applications allow radiologists and physicians to access diagnoses, reports, and images no matter their location via pictorial archiving and communication systems (PACS). Hundreds of scans can be analyzed and reported in as little as 8 minutes using this technology, surpassing the industry average of 30 minutes. This allows both radiologists and physicians to provide proficient and excellent care for the patient while reducing the risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19.
What’s more, the industry has already become a largely digital workforce. Many radiologists have begun to view images at home, dictate notes with voice recognition and sign off on reports electronically. The first U.S. patient with lab-confirmed disease was diagnosed, in part, with chest radiography and the ongoing treatment regimen includes additional chest radiography. As cases influx, COVID-19 case images can be analyzed remotely via teleradiology to help determine courses of treatment for infected cases.
Expansion of Teleradiology during COVID-19
The federal government recognized the role telehealth technology could have during the coronavirus pandemic, since the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a regulation that has broadened access to Medicare telehealth services. It allows beneficiaries to receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility. This regulation enhances patient care as well as reduces the influx of people at physical medical facilities to restrict further COVID-19 spread. Additionally, there’s a temporary relaxation of mandatory in-state licensing requirement for radiologists that allows cross-state reading with teleradiology.
For radiologists, this presents an opportunity to expand their teleradiology technology and gather volumes, which has been hard to come by in recent weeks. Previously, routine X-rays in outpatient settings and radiological volumes have decreased as more Americans follow stay-at-home orders. However, more radiological services will now be needed at facilities across the nation in detecting and treating COVID-19 cases. Implementing teleradiology into these facilities will allow more reads to be processed and offer quicker report turnarounds and better detections of the virus. This can make an invaluable difference in detecting COVID-19.
Teleradiology beyond COVID-19
While the heavy usage of teleradiology has been prompted by unfortunate circumstances due to COVID-19, it may become the new industry norm long after the pandemic is neutralized. The increased accuracy, quality and speed teleradiology brings—coupled with enhancing workflow—will prompt hospitals to implement these services throughout their facilities. Not only does teleradiology improve overall radiologist workflow and patient care, but it also decreases on-site costs. This is something facilities are always looking to do, especially in the current financial debacle we are enduring.
Physicians will also see a large amount of change in this transition. Throughout the remainder of the coronavirus pandemic, physicians will become accustomed to working and communicating with radiologists via these services. Teleradiology’s capabilities makes the interaction between both sides immensely easier while also improving physicians’ overall proficiency. Because of this, we can predict that it’ll be difficult to return to previous methods once things return to normal—another indicator that teleradiology is the future of the industry.
Teleradiology services can become a major solution to the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Making these types of services more accessible to radiologists across the United States will make a lasting impact on the industry. More reads will be analyzed and diagnosed while allowing radiologists to abide by CDC precautions in working remotely to reduce viral exposure. Teleradiology isn’t the only solution to the COVID-19 crisis, but it can be an important step as it becomes more common throughout our health care systems.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dhruv Chopra is the CEO of Collaborative Imaging, a radiologist-owned alliance. He previously spent 15 years as an executive with multiple billing companies in the radiology industry where he gained an appreciation for how much physician money is lost due to several inefficiencies. Chopra’s vision for Collaborative Imaging is to create a platform that allows practices to eliminate duplicity that exists between them, thereby allowing efficiencies, cost savings, and best practices to be incorporated amongst its partners.