How to Plan For the Surgical Backlog When A Pandemic Ends

How to Plan For the Surgical Backlog When A Pandemic Ends

No one knows when a pandemic will be over. Early predictions for COVID-19 ranged from the hopeful (one-to-two months) to the unimaginable (12-18 months, or longer). The truth is, no one knows when a pandemic will end or what the world will look like after.

Many practices nearly stopped scheduling surgeries altogether during COVID. Surgimate clients saw surgical bookings reduced by 70% nationwide during the last pandemic, leaving staff time to focus on other objectives. 

It’s hard to think about it now, but there will be a “day after” to any crisis. For a less gloomy mindset, think of how to use time and think about how to ready your practice to take flight again once this ends.

Elective Surgery May Return With Gusto

woman with pandemic mask

At some point, a crisis will abate, and hospitals and ASCs will get back to full capacity with elective procedures. The American College of Surgeons released guidelines for resuming Elective Surgery after the COVID-19 Pandemic which helped guide many practices.

The timing of resuming surgery will vary from state to state and may pick up sooner for those who haven’t been affected while being delayed in other more heavily hit states.

Surgimate saw surgical cancellations increase by 200% from February 2020 to April 2020 across the U.S. This left an overwhelming amount of time rescheduling surgeries plus new surgeries that were delayed in their scheduling.

Some practices opted to increase operating hours at their ASCs or requested increased block time at the hospitals to expedite the backlog. Either way, the backlog that awaits schedulers was extensive, and overwhelming, and needs careful planning to prioritize surgeries.

Prioritizing Surgical Backlog 

surgical coordinator prioritizing surgeries during a pandemic

One challenge practices across the country face is deciding which patients get treated first when it’s safe to return to normal life. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this. 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, or 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 its 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

masks for a pandemic

All cases that need to be rescheduled should be 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 one through five ie. one is a high priority and five is a low priority) to 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 systematically work through the rescheduling process.

Surgimate released COVID-19 rescheduling features that helped automate this prioritization and ranking process and make the rescheduling process more efficient

Keep Patients Informed

man walking the streets with a mask during a pandemic

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 

surgeon preparing for surgery after a pandemic

With the potential time lag in rescheduling surgeries, there’s a possibility that authorizations, clearances, H&Ps, PATs, EKGs, and so on will need to be redone if they have expired. 

For the next pandemic, 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

masks for a pandemic

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.

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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