How to plan for the surgical backlog when COVID-19 ends
No one knows when the COVID-19 crisis will be over. Early predictions ranged from the hopeful (one-to-two months) to the unimaginable (12-18 months, or longer). The truth is, no one knows when it will end and we also don’t know what the world will look like when the world reemerges from this period.
But now that the reality of the situation has sunk in and many practices are no longer scheduling surgeries (Surgimate clients have seen surgical bookings reduced by 70% nationwide), staff have time to focus on other objectives.
It’s hard to think about it now, but there will be a “day after” this crisis, so this is an opportune time to think about how to ready your practice to take flight again once this ends.
Elective surgery will return with gusto
At some point this crisis will abate, and hospitals and ASCs will get back to full capacity with elective procedures. In fact, The American College of Surgeons just released guidelines for resuming Elective Surgery after the COVID-19 Pandemic so we are heading in the right direction. The timing of resuming surgery will vary from state to state, and will likely pick up sooner for those who have flattened the curve or haven’t been affected, while being delayed in other more heavily hit COVID-19 states.
Considering the influx of cancellations practices have encountered since the start of the pandemic (Surgimate has seen surgical cancellations increase by 200% since February at clients across the U.S.), there will be the overwhelming task of rescheduling these surgeries plus new surgeries that have been delayed in their scheduling. Some practices may opt to increase operating hours at their ASCs or request increased block time at the hospitals to expedite the backlog. Either way, the backlog that awaits schedulers will be extensive and overwhelming, and needs careful planning to prioritize surgeries.
Prioritizing surgical backlog
One challenge practices across the country will face is deciding which patients get treated first. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this and practices and surgeons will have to determine parameters for which types of procedures or patients will take priority.
This could depend on age, urgency level of the surgery, whether the procedure can be performed as an outpatient rather than at a hospital. Or it could depend on who was originally on the schedule and go in order of the dates they were in.
Each practice will have their own parameters for prioritization, but it’s important to collaborate and define them now, so that you will be ready when the time comes to reschedule the cases.
Tagging surgeries to be rescheduled
All cases that need to be rescheduled should be clearly tagged according to the prioritization parameters that you set to ensure effective follow-up. This can be a ranking system (high / medium / low or numbered 1 – 5 ie. 1 = highest priority, 5 = lowest priority) to clearly indicate the order in which surgeries should be rescheduled.
Whichever system is chosen, the most important thing is to ensure schedulers can file the surgeries electronically based on the specific ranking. This means once it becomes relevant, they can pull up the highest priority surgeries and work through the rescheduling process in a systematic way.
Surgimate is releasing its COVID-19 rescheduling features that will automate this prioritization and ranking process and make the rescheduling process more efficient. To learn more contact us here.
Keep patients informed
Practices need to make sure they keep their patients informed so they can manage their expectations. Any patient who has had the stress and uncertainty of their surgery being canceled will want to ensure that once elective surgery is back on the radar, they are good to go as soon as possible. That’s especially true for those who have been waiting for a long time for their surgery or those for whom having surgery postponed has had a serious impact on their day-to-day quality of life.
It’s important to be empathetic with patients, and be available for any questions or concerns they may need or want to discuss.
Hiccups in the rescheduling process
With the potential time lag in rescheduling these surgeries, there’s a possibility that authorizations, clearances, H&Ps, PATs and EKGs and so on will need to be redone if they have expired.
To a large extent it’s going to be on the surgical practice and schedulers to check the validity so there are no last-minute surprises on the patient’s side. Schedulers need to check through all documents and flag any documents that might have expired or will soon expire.
Get processes in place to ensure smooth rescheduling
In order to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible once regular elective surgery is back on the table, practices will need to have a cohesive plan and a uniform workflow in place. The ideal setup would also include a platform like Surgimate to automate the rescheduling process. Either way, once the above mentioned items have been reviewed internally, institute processes to prioritize surgeries and prevent last-minute hiccups from occurring. Having clear guidelines in place will prevent staff and surgeons from being overwhelmed during this (already) stressful period. The more details you can think of and review in advance, the better prepared your practice will be to get back up and running.
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