Medical Imaging’s Vital Role in Determining COVID’s Long-Term Impact
For well over a year, the medical imaging community has anticipated a post-pandemic surge in diagnostic imaging procedures. Those healthcare leaders with foresight prepared accordingly and made sure their people and equipment were ready for the challenge. Now that vaccines are becoming readily available, the number of vaccinated individuals is increasing rapidly, and with it, the predicted rise in MRI and CT scans.
Due to the proactive efforts of key influencers in the industry, word spread of the impending talent shortage of imaging engineers, and the potential for decreased availability of OEM service and parts. As a result, most facilities made the necessary preparations by bolstering their in-house service capabilities. Strategies included uptraining their existing Biomedical Imaging Technicians (BMETs), building an in-house inventory of common replacement parts and supplies, putting their installed fleet of scanners into tip-top operating condition, and developing relationships with third-party providers who have the expertise necessary to keep their systems up and running.
The Next Wave of Diagnostic Medical Imaging Utilization: Long COVID
With people and equipment ready for the challenge ahead, healthcare providers earnestly dive into the first wave of renewed service utilization. Meanwhile, another wave has appeared on the horizon: MRI and CT scans will play a key role in determining the impact of the COVID-19 infection on a patient’s long-term health.
According to studies by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the University of Oxford, Northwestern University, the Alzheimer’s Association, and countless others, a high percentage of coronavirus survivors suffer medium- or long-term reductions in organ health, exercise capacity, cognition, quality of life, and mental health and may even face permanent lung damage. This range of symptoms, often referred to as long COVID, can last weeks or months after the patient has been infected.
Although the reasons behind these effects are still unclear, the studies have demonstrated just how vital CT and MRI scans are in determining the nature, severity, and potential duration of long COVID. For example, according to researchers at Northwestern, traditional imaging techniques “can help explain why someone might have prolonged musculoskeletal symptoms after COVID, directing them to seek the right physician for treatment, such as a rheumatologist or dermatologist.” Meanwhile, more exotic technologies, like MRI machines using hyperpolarized xenon-129, are coming to the forefront. One Oxford University study found that “the use of cutting-edge scanning techniques may detect previously unseen lung damage” caused by coronavirus infection.
Preparing In-House Imaging Teams and Equipment for Another “New Normal”
For mainstream healthcare providers, this means that the need for a robust service and maintenance program for imaging systems will continue to be a top priority in the foreseeable future. What was initially predicted to be a temporary surge in utilization may well become the new normal. The question isn’t whether MRI and CT scanners will play a role in the diagnosis and management of long COVID symptoms – based on current research and clinical practice, it’s clear that imaging systems will be a substantial part of the medical protocols developed. The real question is just how substantial will that role become?
If you’re part of medical imaging leadership for your organization, this leads to a more pertinent question: Is your facility’s imaging department—and their scanners—ready for a permanent increase in system utilization? To answer this question, three specific areas should be evaluated:
1. Service/Maintenance – Do you have in-house service and preventive maintenance capabilities managed by an ACI-certified imaging engineer? If not, do you at least have a solid relationship with a third-party service provider who could be there in hours should an OEM repair technician be unavailable?
2. In-House Expertise – If you have an in-house team, are they ACI-certified and trained not only to repair a dead scanner but also to prevent downtime in the first place and stay on top of new, developing technologies? Do they have access to a technical support team that’s ready and willing to help them troubleshoot with only a phone call?
3. Replacement Parts – Do you have an inventory of replacement parts for those that most commonly fail on your installed systems? Do you also have a trusted parts dealer who can provide almost any needed parts overnight, as well as the expert advice necessary for installing them properly?
If you don’t have an in-house service team, now is the time to seriously consider it. Multiple factors are converging in the post-COVID surge, including a lack of qualified imaging engineers, the potential for an industry-wide parts shortage, and the possibility that the current OEM service system is ill-prepared for the upcoming need. Having a well-trained staff, an inventory of critical replacement parts, overnight access to other parts, and a team of experts who are only a phone call away could mean the difference between surfing the utilization wave … or drowning beneath it.
Technical Prospects: Your Turn-Key Solution to Staying Above Water
Establishing an in-house service program won’t happen overnight, but it can be developed incrementally over the course of months, or even years. The key to success is partnering with a high-quality provider who can help evaluate your service needs, assist in putting together an implementation plan, train your team, and then provide the parts and expertise they’ll need to do their job right.
Technical Prospects has the experience and industry know-how to accurately assess your current situation and offer solutions that can save thousands of dollars and drastically reduce downtime – even if you’re currently under an OEM or ISO service contract.
We also provide gold-standard training and are the only AAMI-accredited training center in the world offering 45 ACI CEUs (9/day) per course. Plus, we train the way that works best for your unique needs, either through our in-person training or our exclusive Interactive Virtual Training Academy (IVTA).
We have an extensive inventory of OEM and aftermarket parts for your systems and can have them to you overnight. Our expert support team can help diagnose a problem on the phone, recommend the right part to solve it, and provide the guidance to install it properly. They can also work with your team to develop an onsite inventory of parts and supplies to help keep system downtime to an absolute minimum.
For more information on ACI certification training, replacement parts for your systems, or help setting up your organization’s in-house service program, contact us today.