CT Volumes Still Haven’t Recovered From Pandemic Lows

While the volume of CT studies in the U.S. has improved since the initial start of the pandemic, the American College of Radiology reports that the numbers remain still far below pre-pandemic expectations, from the data collected as of the end of September.

Neale Pashley VP, Partner Services

Neale Pashley, VP of Partner Services

According to the American College of Radiology (ACR) Dose Index Registry, the worst of CT volume was 32 days after emergency declarations and stay-at-home orders in states in early 2020, with a 53% reduction in exam volume

However, these most recent numbers show that CT volume had rebounded to 84% of what Radiologists would expect after emergency declarations and stay-at-home orders in states in early 2020, with a 53% reduction in exam volume.

Over the entire study period, exam volume was 19% lower than expectations, reported Dr. Matthew Davenport, clinical associate professor of radiology and urology at the University of Michigan and colleagues.

What do these numbers mean? Davenport et al wrote that the numbers reflect “substantially reduced United State CT Volume” which “reflect[s] delayed and deferred care, especially in states with greater unemployment.”

Even the ACR’s CT Dose Registry has had to change and evolve through the pandemic. Its new purpose is to track CT volume as the coronavirus goes through ups and downs.

From the start of January to the end of September, 18,947,969 CT scans would have been expected to be performed, but the actual rate was 19% lower than that. As the country opens up again, volume has increased, but it is still lower than expected. But will 2021 find the country on lockdown again, bringing radiology back to its lows?

The ACR Dose Index Registry hopes to help by providing a “powerful real-time method of studying imaging volumes in the United States, and it can serve as a real-time indicator of health care access,” Davenport et al wrote.

The study they performed included CT exams conducted at 2,398 radiology practices, including academic groups, community hospitals, multispecialty clinics, and freestanding imaging centers across the country. They compared this data to that of what would typically be expected based on predictions before the pandemic.

Davenport et all wrote that states with smaller populations reported a lower decline in CT volume.

Healthcare systems have responded to the pandemic by restricting access to healthcare service, including computed tomography scans, they noted.

Based on the time period studied, January to September, 3.7 million fewer CT examinations were conducted than would have normally been performed.

This leaves us with a tricky situation. Is avoiding COVID-19 more important that the risk of delaying a CT exam? If so, then the care should be delayed, but the opposite can also be true. So care, including CT scans, should be provided, concluded the study.

By Neale Pashley VP of Partner Services at Collaborative Imaging