From its earliest days, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a twin threat to the U.S. healthcare system. The most urgent has been the pressing need to treat hundreds of thousands of patients while protecting frontline healthcare workers—but behind that need there has been an unfolding financial crisis throughout American hospitals.
Across the country, healthcare networks have not only seen a drop in patients seeking out help for non-COVID-19 conditions, there has also been a shutdown of the highly profitable elective surgeries that are the economic lifeblood of many hospitals. Without national guidance on resuming these procedures, states have been left to chart their own course, relying on the guidance of medical organizations and state officials.
According to a running list maintained by Becker Hospital Review, as of May 4, 23 states have begun to lift prohibitions on elective surgeries. In most cases, resumption of elective surgeries depends on providing adequate PPE to protect patients and healthcare workers and relies heavily on the clinical judgement of hospital staff.
While it may seem risky to open up for elective surgeries when overall coronavirus diagnoses are still rising, a joint statement issued by the American College of Surgeons, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the Association of perioperative Registered Nurses, and the American Hospital Association notes that the “pent-up demand for surgical and procedural care may be immense” when we are past the first wave of the pandemic. The statement lays out several principles to help guide elective surgeries, many of which have been adopted by specialist groups:
Elective surgeries should begin after a sustained reduction in the rate of new COVID-19 cases for at least 14 days, and the facility must have the appropriate number of beds, PPE, ventilators, and trained staff.
The facility should have adequate testing capacity to cover its staff.
The facility should have adequate PPE to cover its staff.
A prioritization policy should be in place to meet patient needs, taking into consideration factors like procedures that were cancelled, capacity goals, priority specialties like oncology and cardiac, and allotting procedural time.
The patient’s recent medical history, especially with regard to COVID-19.
The guidelines also call for increased use of telemedicine for peri-operative patient preparation, patient education classes, and remote instructions. The goal is to reduce the overall risk to both healthcare providers and patients by moving as much of these functions to a telehealth platform as possible. Similarly, hospitals are encouraged to discharge patients to their homes as often as possible, instead of a nursing home where they may be at higher risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Broadly, these guidelines conform to the “new normal” that is rapidly emerging in the U.S. healthcare system: more remote treatment and patient education; a greater emphasis on PPE, social distancing, and provider safety; and an intense focus on capacity within the healthcare system to respond to surges of cases. In the future, no matter what happens with this immediate emergency, it seems likely that many of these changes are here to stay.
Here at The Wellness Network, we are working hard to support hospitals as they safely re-open for elective surgeries, whether that means offering free COVID-19 resources or supporting distance learning with a suite of patient education and variety of tools that makes it easier to provide critical pre- and post-operative patient education remotely. Our educational resources help provide a seamless patient experience through all steps of the care process and help hospital teams communicate with clinically accurate education through online tools like HealthClips Online. Our educational resources integrate seamlessly with your already established hospital telehealth apps.