More than 90 percent of practices applying for assistance submitted to two or more programs.
Nearly 70 percent of all radiology practices have applied for financial relief during the COVID-19 pandemic – a statistic that highlights on the significant toll this outbreak has taken on the industry overall.
In a new study published Aug. 4 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, officials from the American College of Radiology (ACR) and Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA) published the results of a survey of more than 200 radiology practices from across the nation.
According to the survey responses, more than 90 percent of imaging centers, hospital-based programs, mixed practices, and breast centers that applied for stimulus funds or loans actually ended up applying to two or more program for financial relief. And, as the pandemic lingers on and patients continue to forego diagnostic imaging services, ACR and RBMA leaders worry that the $175 billion in emergency funds provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act will fall short of industry needs.
“It remains uncertain whether this level of funding would be adequate or additional congressional action may be necessary to stabilize healthcare markets,” wrote the team, led by Ajay Malhorta, M.D., associate professor of radiology and biomedical imaging at Yale University School of Medicine.
The ACR and RBMA reached this determination by gathering member responses to a 48-question survey delivered via email in May. They collected data, focusing on April, on patient demographics, volumes, financials, staff and personnel changes, and recovery potential. They received 228 responses from 80 hospital-based practices, 64 mixed practices, 26 imaging centers, three other centers, and one breast center.
Based on their analysis, the investigators found almost all practices experienced significant volume reductions during April, ranging from 56.4 percent to 63.7 percent. Outpatient volumes dropped between 55 percent and 60 percent, and emergency imaging fell roughly 40 percent during the first week of hospitalizations.
Most practices reported that they had existing teleradiology capabilities prior to the pandemic, and 22.3 percent said they launched this type of set-up once the outbreak become apparent. Even with the increase in remote reading, though, roughly 15 percent of radiologists said they tested positive for COVID-19. Among respondents, 52.3 percent said they had inadequate access to personal protective equipment (PPE), while 35.3 percent said their PPE supply was not an issue.
Despite the deep cuts to imaging volume over the past several months, though, the survey response point to optimism with between 62 percent and 88 percent of radiologists anticipating at least some type of volume recovery. Between 52 percent and 64 percent said they expected a near-term surge as elective imaging begins to open up.
Malhotra’s team said they plan to re-assess this situation again as the pandemic continues to progress, noting that the near future remains nebulous.
“The survey shows the dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on radiology practices and the response measures taken during the crisis,” they said. “The continued spread in parts of the U.S. and possibility of further increases in parts previously affected adversely make prediction of the short- to medium-term impact unclear. These survey results will hopefully help the radiology leadership gauge the initial impact and make appropriate changes in response to the pandemic.”