Teleradiology’s Role During COVID-19

April 22, 2020

Technology for distance reading allows radiologists to remain productive during the outbreak – and it could help shape the future of the industry.

As the coronavirus continues to impact nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives, health care professionals are among the ones who are continuing to work around the clock to keep everyone else safe. While the number of confirmed cases continues to climb – with the United States having more cases than any other country in the world – healthcare professionals risk contracting and spreading COVID-19 every day.

Thankfully, advancements in medical technology – like telehealth – allow some industry professionals to work remotely, joining the millions of Americans in avoiding virus exposure and attempting to slow the overall spread. Telehealth makes healthcare and healthcare services accessible to people who are currently quarantined or practicing social distancing. Radiologists are one of the healthcare groups who can effectively conduct work from home with the use of teleradiology.

Teleradiology capability at home provides the same functionality for physicians as their hospital onsite workstations, allowing radiologists to read images and generate reports seamlessly. Through teleradiology, radiologists can continue to provide interpretations and communicate with referring physicians just as they would by being in the hospital, but without the contact. Without distractions that occur in the hospital reading room, radiologists can be much more productive.                       

As the fight against COVID-19 continues, there is a growing need to make teleradiology solutions more common, especially with radiologists’ instrumental role with the detection and early diagnosis of COVID-19 cases.

The impact of teleradiology during COVID-19

Teleradiology gives radiologists the opportunity to interpret images and communicate with physicians electronically while working remotely. For example, Collaborative Imaging’s cloud-based workstations and mobile applications allow radiologists and physicians to access diagnoses, reports and images no matter their location via cloud-based PACS. 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.

We’ve also seen the industry become a largely digital workforce. Many of Collaborative Imaging’s partnered radiologists have begun to view images at home, dictate reports 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 regime 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.

The expansion of teleradiology during COVID-19

The federal government recognized the role telehealth technology could have during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a regulation that has broadened access to Medicare telehealth services. 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 Collaborative Imaging, this presents an opportunity to expand the 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.

The future of teleradiology beyond COVID-19

Teleradiology may become the new industry norm long after the pandemic is neutralized. The proven accuracy, quality, and speed teleradiology brings will prompt radiologists and hospitals to implement these services throughout their practice patterns. Along with improving overall radiologist workflow and, thereby patient care, teleradiology is becoming the norm.

Physicians will become more accustomed to working and communicating with radiologists via these services throughout the remainder of the coronavirus pandemic. Teleradiology’s capabilities streamlines communication between both sides 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 sign that teleradiology is the future of the industry.

Teleradiology services will become a solution to our current global pandemic and beyond. Making these types of services more accessible to radiologists will make a lasting impact on the industry. Overall, more reads will be interpreted and reported during this time while radiologists follow stay-at-home orders and work 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.

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.