Radiology Consultation Service Use Rises During Pandemic

One facility’s experience shows an increased interest in consultation services can create better treatment plans and augment the radiologist’s role in patient care.

During the pandemic when most radiology practices were shuttering or scaling back significantly, one institution pivoted to rely on its radiology consultation service (RCS) as a way to provide services and ensure continuity of care.

In a study published July 7 in Clinical Imaging, investigators from Weill Cornell Medical College at New York Presbyterian Hospital detailed how their RCS, launched in 2013, grew throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, initially offering breast imaging services and, ultimately, expanding to addressing virus concerns, as well.

“At a time when radiology experienced an unprecedented decrease in imaging studies during the initial peak of the COVID-19 crisis, the RCS at our institution, in contrast, showed a notable increase in services provided,” said the team led by Melissa Reichman, M.D., a women’s imaging specialist and assistant professor of radiology at Weill Cornell. “Our experience demonstrates the value of an organized radiology consultation service and may serve as an example for other institutions to adopt a similar program, as patient-centered care is at the forefront of radiology.”

To determine how RCS utilization changed, Reichman’s team evaluated the number of consultations, as well as screening mammograms and ultrasounds. First, they compared tallies from Jan. 1, 2020, to July 31, 2020, and compared those tallies to the same timeframe from 2019. They also focused on March 1, 2020, to June 30, 2020, and compared it to the same dates from the previous year.

Based on their analysis, they identified significant utilization increases in 2020. Specifically, the number of consultations rose from 1,398 in 2019 to 1,623 in 2020 – a 16-percent increase. In addition, consultations were higher from March-to-June in 2020, totaling 679 versus 538 in 2019 – a 16.9-percent increase.

The team noted that many of the questions coming to the RCS in 2020 mirrored those from 2019, addressing dense breast education, results review, recall clarification, radiation concerns, patient symptoms, and imaging questions around pregnancy and breast-feeding. Queries in 2020, however, also included COVID-19-related questions. In fact, they made up 69.2 percent of RCS calls during the study.

Given this increase in use, the team said, their findings indicate the RCS presented an avenue for radiologists to play a more collaborative role in the healthcare process, becoming more integrated with patient and provider decision-making. All parties worked together as a team to determine the best plan possible for patients and whether imaging would be included.

“Physicians have become more conscientious about their imaging recommendations, relying on the radiologists’ clinical judgement of what is essential and minimizing unnecessary potential viral exposure,” the team concluded. “As a result, we believe that the radiology consultation service has enabled a more appropriate use of imaging.”

For more coverage based on industry expert insights and research, subscribe to the Diagnostic Imaging e-Newsletter here.