With COVID-19 gutting many health facilities, elective surgeries are critical to the rebuilding of the country. Healthcare facilities face myriad challenges in ramping up surgical procedures including staff shortages, COVID-19 risks, patient fears, and evolving practice guidelines. These hurdles aren’t insurmountable, however. Health leaders and medical professionals nationwide are vigilantly and tactfully recommencing surgical procedures.
Facilities face challenges in resuming elective surgeries.
There are not enough surgeons. Nationwide, especially in rural and metro areas, hospitals, outpatient departments, and ambulatory surgical centers are short on surgeons. This is nothing new. Since the early 2000s, there has been a dearth of surgeons in rural areas. The number of general surgeons in rural areas was estimated at 8.1 per 100,000 population in 1981, declining to 5 per 100,000 in 2005, and likely even fewer today. Many rural counties are entirely without surgeons. These areas have even been dubbed “surgical deserts,” and the problem persists. As for the situation in cities, although metropolitan areas have a greater concentration of general and specialized surgeons, the demand for surgical services is high due to the expanding population of older patients, and new demands posed by COVID-19.
COVID compounds the shortage. As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, surgeons and other medical professionals are pulled in many directions. Some may be reassigned as facilities restructure. Others may be quarantined due to exposure. Further, experts have pointed out that the impact of COVID-19 is largely based on location and resources: “The stress on the health care delivery system is proportionate – a small number of cases creates stress for low capacity systems just as a large volume of cases creates stress for larger capacity systems” (Rural Health Research and Policy Centers).
Patients have concerns. Many patients are hesitant to schedule elective surgical procedures during this time, even with additional precautionary measures in place. Media reports abound with stories of patients who are avoiding elective surgeries, like knee and hip replacements, and who are even canceling critical healthcare procedures, such as organ transplants, cancer treatments, and heart surgeries, out of fear of the coronavirus disease. It is becoming crucial to facilities’ survival to openly communicate with patients, help them weigh the risks and benefits, and manage their concerns about returning to hospitals and centers for treatment.
Guidelines have changed. Across the globe, surgeons, staff, and health organizations are adapting surgical practice guidelines to protect against COVID-19 across the perioperative realm. Health professionals have adopted procedural changes in surgical techniques, workflow, patient and staff safety, education, training, and more. Best practices for delivering safe and effective surgical care for patients and for reducing the risk of transmission in providers and patients are continually evolving as information about the virus, transmission, and outcomes becomes available.
Strategic staffing: an effective tactic for ramping up surgeries.
Considering the mounting issues of surgeon shortages, COVID-19 risks, patient concerns, and new guidelines, setting aside time to develop a staffing strategy may seem trivial to busy health leaders. However, the ability to generate and pinpoint innovative and successful solutions is what makes leaders effective, translating to safer patients, a happier staff, and a healthier bottom line. Here’s how a locum support strategy can help you successfully resume surgeries at your facility:
Locums come in all shapes and sizes: In addition to medical professionals certified in general surgery, there are surgeons and advanced practice professionals across the spectrum of specialties and subspecialties. Many are interested in working in rural or metropolitan areas. Using locums can help you combat the shortage of surgical professionals.
Locums can fill the gaps: As you gear back up, you may have surgeons or APPs who need respite from the pace of surgical services to avoid burnout. You may have staff who must quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure, who become ill with the virus, or who have to care for family members. Locums provide an effective and temporary solution to give your staff a much-needed break.
Locums can seamlessly integrate: Locums providers are accustomed to being adaptive, flexible, proactive members of the perioperative team. See how effective locums professionals can be in helping your patients feel confident and at implementing COVID-19 procedures alongside your permanent staff. Locums support can help expedite elective procedures and ensure you’re coming online safely with vetted professionals while you consider long-term rebuilding needs.
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With forethought and strategic planning, you’ll be well on your way to a robust reopening of your surgical center – and that’s a reason for you, your stakeholders, your providers, and your patients to celebrate.
Stay safe and well. Contact us. We’re here to help.