By Pat Anson
Pain News Network
One of the biggest ironies of the coronavirus pandemic is that – in the middle of a healthcare crisis — many hospital emergency rooms, surgery centers and waiting rooms sat empty. Elective surgeries and non-essential medical tests were cancelled to clear the decks for the first wave of COVID-19 patients.
In PNN’s recent survey of over 2,200 patients with chronic pain or chronic illness, over 71 percent said they had a medical appointment cancelled or postponed.
“My surgery for a tumor has been postponed because of the pandemic, yet there are more than enough hospital beds to provide for my needs. I am angry and disappointed,” one cancer patient told us.
“I am very upset to have had my shoulder surgery delayed again. I have already waited over 2 years and now this! My pain level is something terrible,” another patient said.
“I need to have surgery for my hernia but I’m not sure when I can get the surgery now. It’s frustrating because it hurts every day,” said another.
It’s not just doctors cancelling appointments. Many patients in life-threatening situations, with chest pain or stroke symptoms, are staying home rather than go the ER and risk exposure to the virus.
“In the past, people went to the ER maybe a little bit too often for minor conditions. And now we’re seeing a complete swing of the pendulum to another dangerous level where people are not going when they should,” says Mary Dale Peterson, MD, a hospital administrator in Corpus Christi, Texas who is President of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).
In March, many hospitals were forced to cancel elective surgeries because of chronic shortages of surgical gowns, face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) that were needed for the care of COVID-19 patients.
The ASA recently joined in a campaign to reassure patients that it’s safe to reschedule those surgeries. Peterson say the supply chain is “still somewhat fragile,” but most hospitals are well-equipped to perform surgeries again.
“We’re ready to get back to work,” she told PNN. “I understand people’s concerns and we want people to shelter in place, but at the same time, they should be confident that the healthcare facilities have worked really hard to make the environment as safe as possible. A lot safer than going to your local grocery store.”
Pent-Up Patient Demand
The ASA recently joined with medical societies representing nurses and surgeons in adopting new guidelines for healthcare facilities to resume elective surgeries when the following conditions are met:
Sustained reduction of at least 14 days in new COVID-19 cases in a geographic area
Regular testing of patients and hospital staff for the virus
Adequate supplies of anesthesia drugs and PPE, including an emergency supply for a potential second wave of cases
Prioritize surgery scheduling based on medical need and availability of staff.
“When the first wave of this pandemic is behind us, the pent-up patient demand for surgical and procedural care may be immense, and health care organizations, physicians and nurses must be prepared to meet this demand,” the guideline warns.
Peterson says patients should expect to be tested for COVID-19 and to self-isolate before their surgeries. She’s also encouraging patients to ask questions.
“I think patients are free to ask, ‘What have you done to make your hospital safe?’ I think that’s a fair question,“ Peterson says. “We’ve worked really hard to do that. We’re testing patients before they come in for coronavirus and asking them to isolate themselves after the test to protect themselves and others.”