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Imaging Volumes Beginning to Return Amidst COVID-19

No one anticipated the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, nor the plunge in imaging demand that followed. The question on everyone’s mind is, “When will we return to ‘normal’?” Despite predictions that a drop of 50% to 70% could last 3-4 months, early indicators show volume returning in many parts of the country already.

Recovery has begun, trajectory remains uncertain

On April 21, 2020, I presented an overview on the state of the industry and our expectations for recovery to an audience of nearly 400 radiologists and administrators in a live webinar: Imaging Update 2020: Preparing to Bounce Back from COVID-19.

Even since conducting the webinar we have revised upward our best-case and likely-case scenarios. We’ve seen slow but steady increases across much of the nation within the last week, and headlines suggest this trend may continue for the foreseeable future.

There is still a high degree of uncertainty about COVID-19 and the effectiveness of current measures to prevent transmission of the disease as the nation begins to reopen. Will radiology imaging chart a V-shape, U-shape, W-shape or other form on the way to recovery? With so many unknowns, we can’t project with certainty. We continue to model a gradual recovery, represented in the chart below (dated May 7, 2020).

COVID demand model 5-7

Plan now for recovery

So how do you plan for the comeback without knowing when it will appear, or what it will look like when it does? Many are enacting safety precautions, extending hours, modifying schedules, and other novel approaches. Leaning on a teleradiology partner like vRad may be a critical part of the solution for both hospitals and independent practices.

The structure and systems at vRad allow us to be very responsive to market fluctuations. Our ability to pull from a national network of 500+ radiologists, all of whom are available now and ready to read immediately, makes it possible for us to seamlessly direct resources to target localized spikes in demand.

With that in mind, consider leveraging a teleradiology partnership as a “relief valve” so you can aggressively schedule post-COVID-19 elective imaging procedures as a strategy for capturing a greater share of returning local volume.

Investing in a teleradiology partnership can also buy clinical organizations more time to decide when – and if – it makes sense to commit resources to the expansion of full-time, onsite radiology staff.

Imaging rebound will depend on location

The return of elective imaging varies widely depending on geography. If you are in an area still experiencing low imaging volume, now is a great time to prepare for the eventual rebound. 

There is no shortage of active data on the pandemic. Here are a few reliable sources we chose to focus on for insight into progression of the disease:

In addition, the vRad database provides a comprehensive view of national imaging data. On a daily basis, vRad processes tens of thousands of cases from across all 50 states representing the complete spectrum of pathology. We’ve incorporated this unique insight into radiology volume trends and in the recorded webinar shared above, and we will continue to update clients and colleagues as situations demand.


Author Joe Schmugge

Vice President of Operations. Mr. Schmugge has led many areas of the practice, since joining vRad in 2004, including the 24/7 operations center team, demand forecasting, physician services, and the radiologist quality assurance program.



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