PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Hospitals around the country are facing a shortage of a certain kind of dye used to assist in reading computed tomography, commonly referred to as a CAT or CT scan.
The dye, known as contrast media, improves a radiologist’s ability to find possible abnormalities.
It’s largely manufactured in Shanghai, China, which is currently under a COVID-19 lockdown, though local doctors familiar with the shortage say the affected facility has reopened and since ramped up production.
Lifespan spokesperson Kathleen Hart confirmed that its affiliates, along with hospitals around the country, are experiencing a shortage of the dye.
“To best manage its supply of this contrast media, Lifespan has temporarily paused scheduling most outpatient CT scans that require contrast,” Hart said in a statement.
“This move is intended to conserve the contrast media for inpatients, the Emergency Department, as well as necessary procedures/surgeries,” she continued. “Scheduling of any delayed outpatient CT scans that require contrast will resume as supplies of the dye are restored.”
“We think this is only going to go on for a couple of weeks,” Dr. Jeremiah Schuur, Lifespan’s Chief of Emergency Medicine, told 12 News on Thursday.
“There definitely are patients in whom it’s time sensitive, and there are other patients in whom waiting a week or two is not going to impact their care, so those decisions are being made on a condition-by-condition and patient-by-patient basis,” he added.
Doctors are working with radiologists to make sure every contrast order that’s placed is truly needed, Schuur said, noting that some scans can be done without contrast.
A CT scan is a diagnostic imaging exam that uses X-ray technology to produce images of the inside of the body, including more detailed images of bones, muscles, organs and blood vessels.
“They give us essentially the same information,” Schuur added.
A New York hospital association sent out a warning Wednesday that GE Healthcare expects an 80% reduction in supplies for the next six to eight weeks.
The Greater New York Hospital Association posted in its advisory that “GE’s iodinated contrast media —specifically, all concentrations and formulations of its Omnipaque™ (iohexol) products are manufactured in a single facility in Shanghai.”
12 News also reached out to Care New England regarding potential impacts from the national shortage but has not yet heard back.
Ariel Krugman, of Fall River, has breast cancer with bone metastasis. She said a CAT scan with contrast found the cancer back in 2008.
“If I didn’t have those studies and I didn’t have the care that every human being should get, I would not be alive,” Krugman said.
Krugman added that continued scans are crucial for her oncologist to provide accurate diagnoses and treatment plans.
“Unless you have that contrast — the visual — the doctors are not able to make the appropriate diagnostics,” she said.
Krugman told 12 News her CT scan scheduled for Thursday morning was canceled and she was put on a waiting list. She was scheduled to undergo the routine scan at Charlton Memorial Hospital, part of the Southcoast Health hospital system.
In a statement shared with 12 News, spokesperson Shawn Badgley confirmed that Southcoast is also conserving any oral and IV contrast the hospital system has on hand as a result of global supply chain issues.
“Our providers are closely adhering to guidelines issued by professional organizations like the American College of Radiology to determine which procedures requiring contrast are appropriate to postpone,” the statement read.
“This effort will ensure we have adequate resources for those patients in need of critical and emergent care,” the statement continued. “We apologize to our patients who are facing delays, and are working around the clock with GE and other suppliers to overcome this national shortage as soon as possible.”