Teleradiology adoption spiked during COVID-19 and is likely to continue

The global coronavirus pandemic has forced the healthcare system to rethink patient care. And many radiology practices have done so, finding success implementing off-site reading into their daily workflow, according to a new pre-proof study published Monday.

Historically, imaging institutions have held off on utilizing remote rads as part of the normal workflow due in part to perceived commoditization and isolation issues, researchers argue May 18 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.  But according to the small survey, institutions changed their tune during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, with many bringing off-site reading into the daily fold.

Most rad practices also found the process beneficial enough to continue after the pandemic subsides, wrote Mohammed Imran Quraishi, MD, assistant professor of radiology at the University of Tennessee, and colleagues.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges that are obligating radiology practices to take a second look at off-site reading as a potential way to decrease radiologist exposure to SARS-CoV-2,” Quraishi and colleagues added.

Outside reading is normally reserved for overnight and call shifts, the authors noted, and is completed either with internal teleradiology readers or via contracted corporate teleradiology firms.

In an effort to gauge how many practices shifted to teleradiology, the group queried 290 locations, representing a geographically diverse cross section of institutions, they noted. Upon analyzing the 174 responses, Quraishi et al. found an overall jump in the proportion of sites installing home workstations (65.2%) and switching normal daytime shifts to internal telerad (73.6%).

Transitions to remote daily readings were highest in the North and lowest in the South and West, and there was no correlation in adoption with reported hospital cases. However, there was “significant” correlation with CDC-reported state-wide cases.

The authors noted that many practices have scaled-back their dependence on external or contracted readings due to reports of lower case volumes across the country and as a result of fewer non-essential cases.

More than half of respondents (55.9%) said they saw enough benefit from their experience that they plan to continue a similar workflow post-COVID. Specifically, 64.8% reported decreased stress levels, and 96% found improved or no change in turnaround times.

There was some concern expressed over a decrease in rapport, which was more common in hospital-owned practices and academic sites compared to private and community-based organizations.

“In summary, our survey in the early COVID-19 pandemic period found that [the] majority of radiology practices have leveraged internal teleradiology for normal workday shifts and found sufficient benefit to consider continuing internal teleradiology after the pandemic passes,” the authors concluded. “These preliminary findings will require follow-up but suggest that the use of internal teleradiology may persist post-COVID19.”