Like many of her colleagues, Kathryn Olsen, M.D., cardiothoracic radiologist at Banner Health, spent the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic interpreting computerized tomography (CT) chest scans of COVID patients. She observed that the patient’s initial chest CT displayed patterns that reflected lung injury rather than a typical pattern of viral infection. What was even more unique was that this lung injury pattern on CT was rarely seen in the emergency room setting. As she shared these insights with fellow front-line clinicians, she felt more sure that this pattern on CT imaging was significant, even though the evidence was anecdotal. What did the pattern mean and could it help diagnose COVID infections or predict outcomes for patients? Could those answers improve clinical decision-making during the global health crisis?
To answer these questions, Dr. Olsen set out to analyze around 300 CT chest scans acquired over the nine weeks corresponding to the Denver metro’s 2020 Spring COVID-19 surge. As a control set, she compared them to CT scans from the same institutions over the previous three years before COVID emerged. Now that the first arm of her experiment is completed, she has the data to support her hunch: she reports that “patients with COVID-19 who are admitted to a hospital are over ten times more likely to present with a lung injury pattern, rather than what we normally think of as a classic viral pneumonia pattern, validating what we were seeing as radiologists.”