COVID-19 and the Sonographer

December 15, 2020
Whitney J. Palmer

The pandemic’s impact on sonographers was largely a boomerang effect, but some struggles remain.

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on most of healthcare has felt a bit like a pendulum swing – and the impact on sonographers has been no different.

In a survey published recently by the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, sonographers who were polled shared their experiences in job status, access to personal protective equipment (PPE), and their personal challenges.

Data was collected between March 1, 2020, through July 31, 2020, from 2,435 participants. Most sonographers indicated they worked in inpatient hospitals, outpatient clinics, combined facilities, or physician offices. For the most part, they specialized in obstetrics/gynecology (25 percent), abdominal (21 percent), and vascular (20 percent) sonography.

Job Status

Like the majority of imaging professionals, the survey respondents reported a change in their job status during the beginning months of the pandemic. Prior to the declaration on March 11, 76 percent of sonographers said they had experienced no change in their job status, but after that time, 67 percent said they did experience either a drop in income – or they lost it completely. Fortunately, a partial rebound did kick in by the summer, and 63 percent of respondents – 1,387 sonographers – said they saw an uptick in their pay.

Personal Protective Equipment

According to their responses, this U-shaped curve also reflected their access to PPE during the early months of the outbreak. In March, 74 percent reported they had adequate access to PPE so that they could fully comply with the infection control and prevention policies laid out by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. But, that number dropped to 61 percent between March and July. Fortunately, with resource re-allocation and some improved funding, 74 percent of sonographers, once again, reported having sufficient PPE access by July 1.

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Across the board, though, when PPE was low, masks were always the hardest to come by, they said. From the early days, 52 percent of sonographers said they did not have the access they needed, and that portion ballooned to 79 percent within a few weeks. And, by July, 72 percent of imagers still said masks were in short supply. Face shields and goggles were also more difficult to get as the beginning months of the pandemic waned on.

Personal Challenges

Overall, during the months included in the survey, sonographers saw low infection rates, but those numbers were based on low levels of testing. Only 26 percent underwent a COVID-19 diagnostic test, and 17 percent had a serology/antibody test. For both groups, only 3 percent and 1 percent, respectively, received positive results.

Sonographers also revealed they faced main challenges that affected them as individuals.

“The limited availability of PPE resulted in respondents rationing and reusing their PPE,” according to the SDMS. “Respondents also shared that the stress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on their mental and physical health.”

Specifically, based on survey data, 41 percent of sonographers were pushed to ration or re-use PPE, and 22 percent admitted the pandemic took a negative toll on their mental health.