Coping with COVID-19 in 2021: Tips for Nuclear Cardiology Labs

Article developed by ASNC

WITH 2020 IN THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR, ASNC member surveys suggest that nuclear cardiology laboratories are on the road back to normal. Still, members expect there will be detours and slow-downs as their labs, hospitals, and health systems work through the longer-term ramifications of COVID-19.

In conversations about how to maintain forward motion, ASNC leaders emphasized the following concepts guiding their decision-making.

Continue Prioritizing Safety and Well-being

Nothing is more important than the safety of patients and personnel. Nuclear cardiology teams should continue to follow the steps outlined in Figure 1 of the ASNC/SNMMI information statement on guidance and best practices for nuclear cardiology labs during the pandemic, says ASNC Board Member W. Lane Duvall, MD, FASNC. He expects “the four pillars” of this document – what to do from before a patient’s arrival through after testing – likely will be the framework for safe lab operations into 2022.              
Another aspect of safety that requires vigilance is the mental health and well-being of staff. There’s no magic solution for protecting your team’s well-being, Dr. Duvall says, but it helps to be sure staff have a platform to voice their concerns. If possible, he adds, be generous with holidays and other time off when you sense a staff member needs it.

Figure 1 from the ASNC/SNMMI 2020 Information Statement “Guidance and Best Practices for Nuclear Cardiology Laboratories During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic” remains “very relevant and applicable” for nuclear cardiology labs in 2021, says W. Lane Duvall, MD, FASNC.

Think Regionally

Track the COVID-19 case data in your region and be poised to adapt as needed to keep your patients and team safe. You need to know if your area is becoming a hot spot or cooling down. If you are experiencing a flare-up, you may need to be ready to revert to stricter triaging protocols.  

Select Tests that Minimize Exposure and Allow Social Distancing

To guard against a surge in COVID-19 cases, take an extra pause before ordering tests. Where possible, opt for pharmacologic stress to reduce potential for aerosol exposure and permit greater social distancing between patients and staff. If PET scanning is available and is appropriate for the patient, take advantage of the modality’s advantages:  relatively short test duration with staff and patient in separate rooms.

Aim for Efficiency

Now’s a good time to get your team together to watch (or rewatch) ASNC’s on-demand webinar “Optimal Nuclear Cardiology Laboratory Efficiency During Challenging Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which features ASNC leaders explaining how stress-first/stress-only imaging and two-day studies can be effective strategies for improving both patient safety and lab efficiency. The webinar also includes a comprehensive presentation on options for enhancing protocol efficiency, with guidance on tracer and dose choices as well as shortening test duration.

Recognize COVID-19’s Consequences While Seizing Silver Linings

The financial hit that health systems suffered in 2020 may be a fact of life, but don’t let it stifle your goals or your focus on quality assurance or improvement. We asked ASNC leaders how they’re tackling quality in 2021. The bottom line, they say, is adjusting their mindsets to identify the opportunities hidden in the crisis. For a list of their suggestions, see “5 Strategies for Improving Your Nuclear Cardiology Lab in 2021.” 

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