Rationale and Objectives: We aimed to assess early COVID-19 pandemic-associated changes in brain MRI examination frequency and acuity of imaging findings acuity.
Methods: Using a natural language processing model, we retrospectively categorized reported findings of 12,346 brain MRI examinations performed during 6- month pre-pandemic and early pandemic time periods across a large metropolitan health system into 3 acuity levels: (1) normal or near normal; (2) incidental or chronic findings not requiring a management change; and (3) new or progressive findings requiring a management change. Brain MRI frequency and imaging finding acuity level were compared over time.
Results: Between March and August of 2019 (pre-pandemic) and 2020 (early pandemic), our health system brain MRI examination volumes decreased 17.0% (6745 vs 5601). Comparing calendar-matched 6-month periods, the proportion of higher acuity findings increased significantly (P< 0.001) from pre-pandemic (22.5%, 43.6% and 34.0% in acuity level 1, 2, and 3, respectively) to early pandemic periods (19.1%, 40.9%, and 40.1%). During the second 3 months of the early pandemic period, as MRI volumes recovered to near baseline, the proportion of higher acuity findings remained high (42.6% vs 34.1%) compared with a similar pre-pandemic period. In a multivariable analysis, Black (B coefficient, 0.16) and underinsured population (B coefficient, 0.33) presented with higher acuity find- ings (P< 0.05).
Conclusions: As the volume of brain MRI examinations decreased during the early COVID-19 pandemic, the relative proportion of examinations with higher acu- ity findings increased significantly. Pandemic-related changes in patient outcomes related to reduced imaging access merits further attention.Venue / Year