Opinion

Where Medical Imaging Can Be Most Helpful Combatting the COVID-19 Pandemic

“Ground-glass opacity” and “crazy-paving patterns” are how physicians describe what COVID-19 looks like in the body. As the pandemic envelops the globe, medical imaging is helping physicians and scientists better understand the pathology of this devastating disease.

Medical imaging is showing physicians how the disease progresses and informing patient treatment pathways; it is revealing the differences between COVID-19-induced pneumonia and other types of pneumonia, allowing physicians to triage those most in need of critical care. Mobile imaging is also being deployed to the point of care to keep those positively diagnosed quarantined.

In China, researchers are using CT to gain information about how the disease changes over time in patients that have confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. In Italy and Spain, physicians are using point-of-care ultrasound when other resources are unavailable as a primary and secondary diagnostic tool.

POCUS is also helping alleviate concerns about spreading the virus since patients remain in one location. In Seattle, one of the first U.S. epicenters of the outbreak, CT scans confirmed the sad reality that COVID-19 is particularly lethal for the elderly with underlying health complications.

And in a ray of good news, CT scans showed that among pregnant women diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia, “pregnancy and delivery did not aggravate the severity of COVID-19 pneumonia.” Researchers pointed out that “among the 11 births delivered during the study, no cases of neonatal death or asphyxia occurred. None of the children showed any evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and all the newborns were deemed healthy.”

As the United States confronts escalating, confirmed cases across the country, our response must be informed by near-real-time insights and observations. What experts see in communities, hospitals and scans can play an essential role in helping physicians and scientists speed medical interventions to those in need and protect our most vulnerable patient populations.

Medical imaging manufacturers, for example, have moved to dramatically ramp up conversions of static imaging technologies to mobile units to meet the expected demand in new temporary emergency hospitals. These mobile X-ray systems, CT scanners and portable ultrasound systems used at the point of care all will play an important role both in diagnosis and guiding patient care pathways.

The Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance knows that a robust public-private partnership between federal agencies and the medical device community will be a crucial factor in getting key resources to those in critical need. That is why MITA recently wrote to the Food and Drug Administration asking for a temporary relaxation of regulatory review and clearance requirements so manufacturers can meet the coming surge in demand. Getting innovative medical imaging tools in the hands of our frontline health care workers is a topline priority.

Throughout this crisis, the medical imaging sector is also doing its part to hasten the development of important innovations, such as artificial intelligence software, to help physicians speed diagnostic and therapeutic decisions. And we are hopeful that the utility of our technologies will improve efficiencies and help hospital radiology departments and emergency rooms handle the influx of patients requiring diagnostic and therapeutic services.

Whatever may come, medical imaging manufacturers stand ready to do whatever we can to assist our heroic health care workers and those impacted by this horrific crisis.

 

Patrick Hope is executive director of the Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance.

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