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Study: COVID-19 pandemic postpones 28 million elective surgeries

Medical staff adjust equipment in the operating theatre before starting a tracheotomy operation on a patient infected with the COVID-19 virus at the Acibadem Altunizade Hospital on April 18, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

An estimated 28 million elective surgeries have been postponed during the COVID-19 pandemic and response worldwide, according to a study published in the British Journal of Surgery.

Giana Davidson, a general surgeon at the University of Washington Medical Center, partnered with the team of surgeons that conducted the study. Davidson says the cancellation of surgeries has impacted the medical communities beyond just financial losses.

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“These delays may have significant impact on our patient’s quality of life, the ability to do their work, or care for their loved ones,” Davidson said. “As we start the process of re-opening, it is critical that we also strive for equitable access to surgical care across the communities we serve.”

Following guidelines of Gov. Inslee’s stay-at-home order, UW Medicine started postponing non-urgent, elective surgeries on March 16, 2020. The UW reported a 65 percent drop in total surgeries over the 12-week period.

On Monday, Inslee announced that elective surgeries, medical, and dental care can resume as long as providers and offices can meet health and safety protocols, including being able to provide personal protective gear and account for surge capacity.

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Based on the study in the British Journal of Surgery, less than 30 percent of scheduled elective surgeries are expected to take place in 2020, with the cancellation rate projected at just over 72 percent. Published May 15, the study indicates that each additional week of the disruption to services could lead to 2.4 million more surgery cancellations.

The data was collected from surgeons in 359 hospitals and 71 countries, then modeled to project the totals of cancelled surgeries across 190 countries.

“Surgery alleviates disability and pain, and it improves quality of life for people with joint or eye problems, narrowed blood vessels, or intestinal blockage,” said Douglas Wood, chair of the UW’s Department of Surgery. “Thousands of people have been asked to live with pain or delay their cancer surgery.”

Among all countries, orthopedic procedures were the largest group of deferred surgeries, followed by head and neck surgeries, then urology surgeries.

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