As patients who put off medical services surge back into the healthcare system, radiology and imaging departments are feeling the impact. Imaging departments who experienced historically low volumes in the Spring are now faced with backlogs that stretch weeks.
The problem is being experienced by facilities worldwide and has been described as “an absolute catastrophe” by radiologists in the United Kingdom. The scope of the crunch is causing a tightening of equipment, supplies, and overall availability. In this post, we take a look at the issues surrounding the backlog and possible solutions to address the needs of patients.
Long Wait Times Causing Issues for Radiology Departments
Now more than ever, long wait times for imaging services present a host of challenges for hospitals and imaging departments. No patient likes to wait, but it’s essential to understand that many have already waited months to seek treatment due to the pandemic. Even if they were seen tomorrow, they might have already experienced what amounts to a six-month delay.
If a patient is told that they will have to wait for an additional four to five weeks for a scan, it’s going to cause disruption. Many patients will immediately search for and call other facilities in their areas to see if they can get their imaging performed sooner.
If other providers can see them sooner, odds are the patient will cancel their appointment and go with the quicker option. The long-term effects of this decision go far beyond the single scan. New facilities result in new relationships, new treatment plans, and can derail years of patient loyalty.
Financial Challenges of Addressing an Imaging Backlog
The problem with most patient backlogs is that they are temporary. Had the pandemic not restricted access, there would be no overflow, and at some point in the future, the backlog will be addressed, and things will get back to normal.
These factors make it unrealistic to purchase new equipment or make multi-year commitments for equipment. The reality is, by the time you get the camera purchased and installed, the need may have dissipated. Avoiding long-term financial obligations to address short-term needs is wise.
Leveraging Interim Imaging to Address a Backlog
If the backlog can hurt your facility but purchasing new equipment is not the answer, what is the right solution for an imaging department? Mobile imaging, or Interim Imaging, is a smart way to address a patient backlog.
By enlisting an interim imaging provider, you can pull in CT, MRI, PET/CT, or Nuclear Medicine imaging equipment for a defined amount of time. This approach allows you to get the devices you need to address the areas where the worst backlogs are for your group.
Interim imaging, often referred to as mobile imaging, is typically offered in short term contracts such as four weeks or eight weeks. The mobile imaging trailers arrive with everything you need to start seeing patients, and usually, all the facility needs to provide is power and an internet connection.
Many hospitals are turning to interim imaging to increase capacity without committing to a long-term purchase. This allows the patient backlog to be bought down more quickly, increases revenue, and works through the hospital’s challenges during this period.
Interim Imaging Availability and Timing Considerations
Because interim and mobile imaging are ideal tools to address the patient backlog, many facilities have turned to interim service providers. “We’ve seen a pretty dramatic uptick in requests for CT, PET/CT, and MRI trailers” said Jake Fiebelkorn, Director of Interim Sales at DMS Health.
In years past, it was reasonable to have a match available within a week or two, but now it can take weeks to get the exact matching you want due to high demand. “I’m advising customers to plan out as much as they can because our inventory is becoming tighter as the weeks move on” added Feibelkhorn.
Long Imaging Wait Times Present an Opportunity
It may seem counterintuitive, but the current dynamics and wait times can present an opportunity for your imaging department. If patients are being told they have to wait, they will call around – meaning that they will likely contact you. If your facility is the only one in the area offering reasonable wait times, it’s a chance to develop new relationships.
Additionally, referring physician groups who were committed to other organizations may be open to trying your team if the wait times are better for their patients. You can increase your volumes by capitalizing on the fact that there are more patients looking for service.
The Time for Action
The Coronavirus continues to have unpredictable ramifications across the healthcare industry. The patient backlog may feel like yet another issue to deal with, but it has the ability to harm your department.
Be proactive. Most patients will not tell you that a wait time is unacceptable. They will simply go to another provider – leaving your relationship at risk. Taking action now to keep wait times reasonable can pay tremendous benefits down the line.