Nuclear Medicine Departments in the Era of COVID-19

Semin Nucl Med. 2021 Jun 22;S0001-2998(21)00051-9. doi: 10.1053/j.semnuclmed.2021.06.019. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic we, the nuclear medicine (NM) community, expediently mobilized to enable continuity of essential services to the best of our abilities. For example, we effectuated adapted guidelines for NM standard operating procedures (SOPs) and enacted heightened infection protection measures for staff, patients, and the public, alike. Challenges in radionuclide supply chains were identified and often met. NM procedural volumes declined globally and underwent restoration of varying degrees, contingent upon local contexts. Serial surveys have gauged and chronicled such geographical variance of the impact of COVID-19 on NM service delivery and, though it may be too early to fully understand the long-term consequences of reduced NM services, overall, we can certainly expect that this era adversely affected the management of many patients afflicted with non-communicable diseases. Today we are unquestionably better prepared to face unforeseen outbreaks, but a degree of uncertainty lingers. Which lessons learned will endure in the form of permanent NM pandemic preparedness procedures and protocols? In this spirit, the present manuscript presents a revision of prior recommendations issued mid-pandemic to NM centers, some of which may become mainstays in NM service delivery and implementation. Discussed herein are (1) comparative worldwide survey results of the measurable impact of COVID-19 on the practice of nuclear medicine (2) the definitions of a pandemic and its phases (3) relevant, recently developed or updated guidelines specific to nuclear medicine (4) incidental findings of COVID-19 on hybrid nuclear medicine studies performed primarily for oncologic indications and (5) how pertinent pedagogical methods for medical education, research, and development have been re-invented in a suddenly more virtual world. NM professionals shall indefinitely adopt many of the measures implemented during this pandemic, to enable continuity of essential services while preventing the spread of the virus. Which ones? Practices must remain ready for possible new peaks or variants of the roiling COVID-19 contagion and for the emergence of potential new pathogens that may incite future outbreaks or pandemics. Communications technologies are here to stay and will continue to be used in a broad spectrum of applications, from telemedicine to education, but how best? NM departments must align synergistically with these trends, considering what adaptations to a more virtual professional environment should not only last but be further innovated. The paper aims to provide recent history, analysis, and a springboard for continued constructive dialogue. To best navigate the future, NM must continue to learn from this crisis and must continue to bring new questions, evidence, ideas, and warranted systematic updates to the figurative table.

Publication types

  • Review