Study Reveals Impact of COVID-19 on Spine Surgeries

Though the global pandemic persists and experts warn of a second wave in the fall and winter, there are certain aspects of life that have returned to normal – or perhaps they just feel normal as compared to the critical months between March and June, when New Jersey residents effectively locked themselves into their homes.

In addition to enduring store and restaurant closures, shortages at supermarkets and being unable to visit with family and friends, many people cancelled appointments with physicians, and most non-urgent surgeries were canceled. Now that the hospitals have re-opened for elective surgery, experts are assessing the long-term effect that the three-month hiatus had on the healthcare system.

The July 1st, 2020 edition of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery contained the results of an investigation performed at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland. The researchers detailed the results of elective surgeries having been halted in mid-March across the country.  What they determined is that because disease progression did not take a break while the rest of us were hunkered down, it is likely that the wait time for surgery is going to get much worse.

The reasoning behind the researchers’ conclusions are clear. All of the patients who had been scheduled for surgery during the surgical suspension still need their procedures, and while hospitals are beginning to reopen for elective surgery, they are still not functioning at full capacity. The backlog will continue to grow, and the group is anticipating that by mid-2022 there will be more than one million people waiting for spine surgery and total joint replacements alone.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that it will take a long time for surgical centers and hospitals to return to pre-COVID volumes. There are many reasons for this, including:

  • Key medical staff, including nurses and anesthesiologists, are being diverted to COVID-19 care
  • Hospital beds are not available because they are needed for COVID-19 patients
  • Patients scheduled for surgery will need to be tested for COVID-19, and this may lead to delays.
  • Patients may experience increased fear over entering medical facilities and possibly exposing themselves to the virus.

Though each of these issues is slowly being resolved, a resurgence of the virus in the coming months is likely to exacerbate the situation.

At our New Jersey spine care practice we have instituted a number of procedures to assure our patients of their safety while in our care. We have placed a significant emphasis on protective measures for our patients and our staff, including screening procedures for anybody entering the building, universal masking and social distancing, increased use of telemedicine, and more. Surgeries have been prioritized based on both need and the safety of the procedure itself, and we will continue to take steps to offer a conservative approach to offer the relief that you need.

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