Imaging dye shortage means rocky 8 weeks ahead for hospitals

A shortage of a key ingredient used for imaging services is forcing physicians to ration medical scans for only the most crucial cases, a challenge that will likely continue for the next six to eight weeks until supplies are replenished, The Washington Post reported May 11.

The shortage of contrast media, an iodine solution injected into patients before CT scans and other imaging tests, stems from strict COVID-19 lockdowns in Shanghai, where GE Healthcare manufactures the ingredient. GE said the factory was operating at 25 percent capacity this week and plans to resume normal production levels by the end of June.

Until then, hospitals and physicians across the country will have the difficult task of rationing the highly utilized medical supply. Nearly 1 million scans a week using contrast media are conducted in the U.S., according to Matt Davenport, MD, vice chair of the American College of Radiology Commission on Quality and Safety. 

The University of California San Francisco Medical Center uses contrast media about 150 times per day and is one of many healthcare organizations nationwide delaying nonemergent cases. 

"It is absolutely essential to the management of patient care. So many treatment decisions rely on imaging," Christopher Hess, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the medical center's radiology and biomedical imaging department, told the Post. "If imaging services sneeze, then the whole health system gets the flu."

Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River, Mass., has about five days' worth of contrast media on hand. The hospital has delayed about 10 to 15 routine heart scans this week amid the shortage, according to Peter Cohn, MD, a cardiologist at the hospital. 

"It's a crisis that I have never had as a clinician, that I have not had to deal with in my entire career," he told the Post.

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