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Beacon Senior News

Is it safe to get an elective surgery during COVID?

Feb 22, 2021 02:40PM ● By David Wilkening
Elective Surgery

When my doctor pronounced my condition as an inguinal hernia and sent me to a referring surgeon, I was sure the verdict would be a dreaded one—an operation. But, after examining my painless condition, the surgeon had a surprising recommendation: wait and see. Put it off unless it gets worse—as in painful or otherwise inconvenient.

It was a surprise because I expected a specialist such as a surgeon to recommend (what else?) surgery. In a broader sense, the verdict raised the issue of COVID’s impact on elective surgeries. For the types of elective surgery older people like myself need, are they truly elective?

“Elective” has a broad definition in medical terms. Put simply, it’s anything optional that’s not an emergency operation. Its wide range can include ear tubes, tonsillectomies and scoliosis surgery—and hernias.

There’s no question the virus slowed down all types of surgery.

It’s bad enough that patients have been putting off regular visits to the family doctor. But what about more serious conditions such as knee replacements (which are very common) or other procedures that relieve pain and suffering?


How safe are elective surgeries these days?

There’s no simple answer. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported in September that almost half of American adults skipped or postponed medical care because of the virus. But a study released this summer found that elective surgery had by then returned to normal. Elective procedures nationally returned to their normal volumes by late July, according to a report by the surgical scheduling company Surgimate. 

By July 20, scheduled surgeries for about 1,500 surgeons reached about the same number as the January before the pandemic. A similar volume recovery in elective surgeries was seen in some ambulatory surgery centers, according to Bill Prentice, CEO of the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (ASCA). However, a national analysis noted that a recent resurgence of COVID cases led to some voluntary and involuntary suspensions of such procedures in various states.


8 questions to ask before surgery

For those facing the choice of whether or not to proceed with elective surgery, here are some questions to ask yourself, or the doctor performing the surgery:

1. Are COVID rates declining in my region?

2. Does the center or hospital screen all patients for the virus?

3. Does it also test not just direct caregivers but all staff members?

4. What is the hospital or health center’s overall surgical and treatment plan for patients?

5. Do they continually disinfect used areas and encourage social distancing?

6. Do they require all patients and staff to wear face coverings?

7. Are COVID patients isolated separately from others?

8. Are there restrictions on what you can bring with you such as books, clothes or a laptop?

It’s also a good idea to visit a medical center prior to an elective operation. You can see the procedures put in place to ensure your own safety and whether they’re enforcing safety protocols.


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