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September 01, 2020

What to Know About Elective Procedures

In late March 2020, after a wave of COVID-19 cases hit the nation, hospitals across the country temporarily canceled medical procedures that weren’t considered to be emergencies. This measure was taken to help ensure that enough hospital beds, medical equipment, protective equipment, and so forth were available for COVID-19 patients and medical professionals. 

This scenario continued through April and, in May 2020, the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that 48% of adults had postponed a form of medical care because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’ve been waiting to have an elective procedure performed, you may be wondering if it’s now safe to have yours done — and, if so, what the process is to see your doctor and get your slot in the operating room scheduled. This post will offer guidance. 

Resuming Elective Surgery: Considering Definitions

The broad definition of elective surgery is one that is not an emergency. But, in reality, the definition is more nuanced. As a Harvard University publication notes, surgery for a herniated disc may technically be considered elective since it’s not a life-threatening emergency. But, if the resulting sciatica is so painful that it’s making it difficult for you to function, then that’s not the same type of procedure as, say, cosmetic surgery desired for purely aesthetic reasons. 

In the first instance, your medical team may work with you now to create a plan for the surgery while, in the second option, they might suggest that you wait until the risk of COVID infection is less likely. 

Recommended Steps

According to Kaiser Health News, older adults should consider potential patient safety challenges before receiving elective care. They suggest that about a week before your doctor’s appointment to discuss options, you should gain clarity on how to prepare for the visit in the COVID era.

ProjectPatientCare.org has created a list of questions you can ask that include: 

  • the appropriate entrance to use
  • whether you’ll be screened for COVID when you arrive
  • if you should wear gloves
  • if you can bring a book or other personal belonging in with you to the appointment
  • if you’ll be seen by clinicians who don’t see COVID patients
  • what protective gear the staff will be wearing
  • if medical staff are regularly checked for COVID symptoms
  • if you can fill out forms online at home to lessen your time in the office
  • if you can wait in your car and be called in when your doctor is ready

Then there is the issue of caregivers. Can someone come to the office with you to discuss surgical procedures? On the day of the surgery itself? If so, what are the limitations? After the surgery, how should you monitor yourself for potential COVID-19 symptoms? If you suspect you may be infected, what steps should you take?

Looking to the Future

In March and April, elective surgical procedures had been temporarily stopped in health systems around the country. Now, policies about the resumption of elective surgeries vary, depending upon your geography. For example, in July 2020, hospitals in hot spot states that are experiencing a significant wave of COVID-19 cases — such as California, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas — may be postponing healthcare procedures that aren’t considered emergencies for patient safety and other reasons. 

That, however, isn’t a national occurrence. Risk assessment is instead based on circumstances in the community. So, in geographies where the COVID-19 pandemic is having a moderate effect, healthcare facilities may have created a plan to include the resumption of elective surgeries. If so, you may be able to schedule yours. 

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons notes another important factor: the ability of health systems to pre-operatively test each patient for COVID-19 before elective procedures. The scheduling of operating room procedures, then, can depend in part upon the current supply of tests and labs’ ability to process them quickly enough.

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