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Imaging utilization to drop more than 50% over three or four months: report

par John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | April 17, 2020
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While the federal government has passed three stimulus packages to help providers, these sources of funding will not be enough for many. Qualifying practices can apply for loans, loan guarantees and other investments through the $500B of the Treasury Exchange Stabilization Fund. They may also request free loans through the Medicare COVID-19 advance payment program and can defer paying the employer portion of social security taxes through the end of 2020.

Cavallo says that any first step in recovery should be to empower staff. “Furloughs, cut hours and reduced wages have affected many. The first priority for any practice should be to make sure that their workers feel valued and reassured.”

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Post-pandemic trends
While mainly negative, the pandemic has produced growth in a few areas, including the greater use of telemedicine. The practice could, on a micro level, change how radiology groups work, encouraging radiologists to work longer hours and weeks, especially in outpatient imaging, which does not require fast turnaround like emergent and inpatient imaging.

“In the intermediate and long term, practices may be looking to capture more revenue to make up for losses incurred during the height of the pandemic,” said Cavallo. “Responsibilities that were previously outsourced to teleradiology services could ultimately be brought back ‘in-house.’”

He adds that merger and acquisition activity with large healthcare systems may also increase, due to historically low interest rates and the need to access capital. “Even prior to the current crisis, the prevailing trends were toward consolidation. Larger groups are more likely to have balance sheets that can better weather the uncertainty ahead. Smaller practices may have more difficulty competing, and this could speed up the pace of mergers and acquisitions.”

Recovery for any practice will take time, and at the very least require temporary changes in their operations. Newcomers to the field should expect a tougher job market, while senior radiologists may be required to potentially delay retirement and staff may incur pay cuts, furloughs and potentially, layoffs.

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