“At the University of Chicago, members of the Department of Surgery decided to investigate this issue more precisely. As stay-at-home restrictions in some states are easing, and as non-emergency medical care is being reconsidered, how does one possibly triage the thousands upon thousands of patients whose surgeries were postponed? Instead of the term “elective,” the University of Chicago’s Department of Surgery chose the phrase “Medically-Necessary, Time Sensitive” (MeNTS). This concept can be utilized to better assess the acuity and safety when determining which patients can get to the operating room in as high benefit/low risk manner as possible. And unlike in any recent time in history, risks to healthcare staff as well as risks to the patient from healthcare staff, are now thrown into the equation. The work was published in the April issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
On March 17, 2020, the American College of Surgeons recommended that all “elective” surgeries be canceled indefinitely. These guidelines were published, stating that only patients with “high acuity” surgical issues, which would include aggressive cancers and severely symptomatic disease, should proceed. Based on the Elective Surgery Acuity Scale (ESAS), most hospitals were strongly encouraged to cancel any surgery that was not high acuity, including slow-growing cancers, orthopedic and spine surgeries, airway surgeries, and any other surgeries for non-cancerous tumors. Heart surgeries for stable cardiac issues were also put on hold. Patients and surgeons waited. Some patients did, indeed undergo non-Covid-19-related surgeries. But most did not. Redeployment is gradually turning to re-entry.
The re-entry process for non-urgent (yet necessary) surgeries is a complicated one. Decisions and timing, based on a given hospital’s number and severity of Covid-19 patients, combined with a given city or state’s current and projected number of Covid-19 cases, how sick those patients will be, and whether or not a second surge may come, involves a fair amount of guesswork. As we have all seen, data manipulation has become a daily sparring match in many arenas. The authors of the study created an objective surgical risk scoring system, in order to help hospitals across this country, as well as others across the world, better identify appropriate timing regarding which surgeries can go ahead sooner rather than later, and why. They factored several variables into their equation, to account for the multiple potential barriers to care, including health and safety of hospital personnel. They created scoring systems based on three factors: Procedure, Disease and Patient Issues.
The authors of the study created an objective surgical risk scoring system, in order to help hospitals across this country, as well as others across the world, better identify appropriate timing regarding which surgeries can go ahead sooner rather than later, and why. They factored several variables into their equation, to account for the multiple potential barriers to care, including health and safety of hospital personnel. Each patient would receive an overall conglomerate score, based on all of these factors, with the lower risks giving them more favorable scores to proceed with surgery soon, and the higher risks giving patients a higher score, or higher risk regarding proceeding with surgery, meaning it may be safest, for now, to wait.
Dr. Jeffrey Matthews, senior author of the paper, and Department Chair at the University of Chicago, stated that this model is reproducible across hospital systems, in urban, rural, and academic settings. And in the event of potential unpredictable surges of Covid-19 cases, the scoring system “helps prioritize cases not only from the procedure/disease standpoint but also from the pandemic standpoint with respect to available hospital resources such as PPE, blood, ICU beds, and [regular hospital] beds.”
The scoring system is extremely new, and the coming weeks will reveal how patients, surgeons and hospitals are faring as patients without life-and-death emergencies and/or Covid-19 complications gradually begin filling the operating rooms and hospital beds. In addition, and perhaps just as important, the study authors note that creating systems whereby healthcare resources, safety, and impact on outcomes need to be considered more carefully for each patient intervention, the larger impact of each intervention on public health will be better understood: not only for today’s pandemic, but also in future, as yet unknown, global events.”