ACR Bulletin

Covering topics relevant to the practice of radiology

Navigating a New Normal

With COVID-19 still in the spotlight, an ACR member discusses how the importance of supporting the needs of medical workers is more important than ever.
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September 30, 2020

The pandemic has devastated many radiology practices, imaging centers, and academic departments. Pediatric radiology centers could fare slightly better because of children’s apparent increased immunity to COVID-19. And while some pediatric radiology centers were suddenly faced with changes in schedules and reduced personnel, they also learned — out of necessity — how to improve their staffing, workflows, and communication. In an interview with the Bulletin, Neil U. Lall, MD, a radiologist with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and vice chair of the ACR YPS, shares how the pandemic has affected his work in a pediatric environment — as well as the lessons he’s learned about the profession and the overall healthcare landscape.

How has the nature of your work changed due to COVID-19?
I have had a different experience from other radiologists in that COVID-19 hasn’t been as prevalent in the pediatric world, so I have been somewhat insulated from it. While some hospitals had to divert a lot of manpower to directly caring for COVID-19 patients (with some physicians going through “redeployment” into frontline specialties), this was much less of a concern for us, given our patient population.

We were able to keep operating but we did throttle back most outpatient imaging that was deemed non-urgent. I think there was less fear of coming into a medical facility among our patient population than there was among older adults. However, we did see cutbacks in schedules and in outpatient imaging, with only urgent cases being handled for a while. Imaging started to come back around the beginning of May, and as of August, caseloads are almost back to pre-COVID-19 levels. There are strict universal mask requirements throughout Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Scripts and other written guidance have been provided to RTs so that they are more prepared to talk to parents who refuse to wear masks. Although most staff are physically back to work, some of the administrative assistants continue to work remotely.

What adjustments have you made to your workflow as a result of the pandemic?
We’ve definitely made significant changes to workflow. Remote workstations were not optimized before COVID-19, but we now have a reliable set-up that can serve as a back-up, if needed. We’ve become more effective in remote resident education, developed electronic channels for remote resident cases, and increased our ability to provide virtual supplemental lectures. I believe all of these things have resulted in an overall improvement in the education that we provide. Around the time of the stay-at-home orders, we were adding on an additional site. Because the radiologists were no longer all in the same location, we had already been developing different ways to communicate, including instituting a text-based system for communication with RTs. The virtual communication techniques that we developed while working remotely helped to make that transition smoother and more effective when the pandemic hit.

Are there any ACR resources that have been particularly helpful to you as you navigate this new normal?
It’s great that the ACR has been compiling information and maintaining a dedicated COVID-19 resources page. The recommendations on how to reopen your practice (and English and Spanish infographics) were very helpful, in addition to the recommendations on centralization and standardization. There were also benefits from having a virtual ACR Annual Meeting for the first time. More radiologists were able to attend caucuses virtually than if the meeting had taken place in person. We could also communicate with each other, through chats, during presentations. I think we have seen that virtual education can open up new doors for the future.

Why do you value your ACR membership?
I always saw advocacy as a membership benefit and felt that all ACR member resources were very helpful. However, with healthcare currently in the spotlight, the importance of funding and supporting the needs of the healthcare industry and its workers is paramount. Because so many changes are happening so rapidly, it’s more important now than ever to have a voice at the table.

Author Interview by Lisa Berretta, ACR Membership Services