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June 16, 2020

Timeline for resuming elective surgeries becoming more clear amid the Covid-19 pandemic

By GlobalData Healthcare

In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 as a global pandemic. This prompted many hospitals in the US to postpone non-urgent, elective surgeries. GlobalData identified that the three main reasons for postponing elective surgeries in the US were: 1) to protect non-Covid-19 patients from contracting the disease in the hospital, 2) to protect healthcare staff from transmission from patients potentially carrying the virus, and 3) to divert resources such as hospital beds and ventilators to makeshift intensive care units (ICUs) to treat Covid-19 patients in critical condition.

However, as the crisis in the US persisted and with the “peak week” of new cases not occurring until the last week of April 2020, hospitals continued to lose revenue due to a lack of elective procedures. Hospital staff at major healthcare networks were being dismissed or furloughed to spare hospitals from total financial collapse at a time when healthcare workers were needed to save the lives of patients in critical conditions. During this time, it became clear that hospitals could not postpone elective surgeries much longer without going bankrupt.

While elective surgeries did indeed start to be rescheduled in over 29 states, the volume of elective surgeries has been lower than initially predicted. Possible reasons for this trend include patient hesitation to enter hospitals due to a lingering fear of contracting Covid-19, and expert recommendations being updated to reflect the fact that the number of daily new Covid-19 cases is not declining as quickly as initially predicted by modelling algorithms, such as those run by GlobalData. As such, many stakeholders, including patients and medical device companies, wonder when elective surgeries will ramp up.

CEOs of large healthcare networks are now predicting that elective procedure volumes will not return to pre-Covid-19 levels for another three to six months. By analyzing epidemiology data and tracking regional guidelines, GlobalData projects surgery volumes to reach 75% of what was performed in 2019 by the end of Q3 2020 and expects hospitals to reach pre-Covid-19 capacities by the end of 2020. In early 2021, GlobalData anticipates a “surge” period where hospitals will be functioning at 10–20% above regular capacity to catch up on delayed procedures. Estimating a resumption of elective surgeries is complicated by varying guidelines for each state and the ability of each hospital network to make decisions based on the number of local Covid-19 cases. In addition, federal recommendations have lacked specificity.

Last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) encouraged patients to return to medical centres to receive care that had been postponed. To ease patient fears, healthcare providers are planning to take steps such as sanitation of offices, training staff on Covid-19 spread, and obtaining additional personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect patients. If the second wave of Covid-19 occurs in Q4 2020 and results in hospitals further delaying elective surgeries, GlobalData will update its forecast models for elective surgery resumption.

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