Role Of Radiology In The Pandemic

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Telehealth and teleradiology centres have seen a significant uptake in volumes during the pandemic. They play an important role as patients could receive services virtually and providers embraced working remotely.

In December 2019, China reported an outbreak of the acute respiratory disease in Wuhan & the World Health Organization (WHO), compelled by the sheer ferocity of the spread declared it as a ‘Pandemic’ (an epidemic of an infectious disease that has spread across a large region, for instance multiple continents or worldwide, affecting a substantial number of individuals) on 11th March 2020. In India, we all recall the sudden spread from March 2020 and the resultant lockdown to contain the virulent spread.

The virus  –  SARS-COV-2, popularly known as COVID-19 or simply Coronavirus, is undoubtedly the biggest healthcare crisis our generation has seen. Like any other pandemic management, the first step was to accurately diagnose it amongst symptomatic patients. 

Radiology or Diagnostic Medical Imaging offers a wide range of tools and techniques for detection, staging, and defining treatment modalities for disease management. In the case of Coronavirus, the role of chest imaging, including baseline X-ray and the HRCT or ‘High Resolution Computed Tomography’ of the Thorax or Chest became important as an imaging modality that provided a sensitive and specific investigation for the detection of the virus.

Quick diagnosis and patient safety are some of the reasons why mobile imaging has been embraced in healthcare facilities.
Mobile imaging has played an important role in limiting infection and providing point of care imaging throughout COVID .

HRCT Chest findings in COVID-19 and the CT Severity Scoring (CTSS) reveal the extent of damage to the lungs by the COVID-19 virus. The CT can also show Pneumothorax & Pleural Effusion even before they manifest clinically. Especially in India, further clinical examinations led to the detection of underlying co-morbidities such as chronic lung disease or heart failure. 

All this clinical information was supremely important for Physicians treating the virus to determine virus severity and helped guide their treatment for multiple therapies, which included managing complications that surfaced in the entire diagnosis process.

The Radiology team across the country have had their fair share of constraints while being at the forefront of COVID diagnosis. Given the overwhelming number of patients, the Radiologists have had to overcome challenges such as lack of CT Scan machines especially in semi-urban and rural areas, patient management (particularly moving patients on oxygen support for Medical Imaging) and adhering to infection control protocols in crowded set ups (which can have an impact on their own safety and wellbeing). 

While the Central and State Governments significantly scaled up their procurement of CT Machines and Hospital Infection solutions, certain innovations also got scaled up in the radiology field to help manage the large volume of patients. These included Telehealth, Bedside Imaging and Research on Artificial Intelligence & Deep Learning. 

Telehealth or teleradiology centres have seen a significant uptake in volumes during the pandemic. They play an important role as patients could receive services virtually and providers embraced working remotely. Moving forward, with increasing Interoperability electronic health records, picture archiving and artificial intelligence solutions will help Radiologists in such pandemic management.

Healthcare facilities worldwide are embracing mobile imaging owing to its contribution to patient care (transferring critically ill patients to the radiology department can cause complications for the patient). Bedside or mobile imaging saw a significant scale up as it provided the added advantage of portability, quick diagnosis and patient and staff safety. A portable X-ray unit also helps capture an image at a patient’s bedside in lesser time than it would take to move a patient to an X-ray room. Images can be viewed by a physician immediately on the unit’s console.

Research in radiology has also accelerated in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning. By incorporating DL algorithms & AI tools in the medical imaging equipment, medical device companies strive to help radiology departments reduce human error and make sound clinical decisions by aiding radiologists to spot anomalies in human tissue at the peak of the disease.

Beyond the clinical work, COVID-19 led physical and mental fatigue has led to greater attention to employee burnout. Radiology departments are beginning to address this concern by providing adequate staffing, fostering camaraderie and building organizational resilience.

Public health infrastructure, in general, was not ready to face a challenge like the novel Coronavirus back in March 2020. It would be prudent for all healthcare stakeholders to come together and create new business models to prepare for the next public health crisis and form long-term symbiotic partnerships with the MedTech industry to robustly confront such pandemic in the future. 

Nikhel Goel is the General Manager of the India Cluster, Carestream.

This article was originally published in BW Healthcare World. It is republished here with the permission of the publication.


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