Leading Patients Through the Void

May 04, 2020

One member of our team’s mom, call her “Kate” (not her real name), broke her foot back in February; a break that would require surgery to repair.  Kate is over 70 and her inability to put weight on that foot has seriously hindered her quality of life.  Simple things like taking her puppy for a walk have been taken away from her because she cannot get her broken foot repaired.  The hardest part for Kate is she has no idea when she will get scheduled for surgery.  In the interim, the sedentary life she is forced to lead could cause other health issues over time.  Kate is worried.  Kate is frustrated.  Kate is saddened by the void COVID-19 has put her, and so many other patients, in.

One of the many challenges of considering resuming elective surgery is understanding when to ramp up and how to prioritize surgeries.  As Kathy Bailey, President and CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge puts it, facilities want to begin ramp up “early enough to start getting people seen again, but late enough to prevent a second surge of COVID-19 cases”. (1) In addition, sometimes the line between urgent and nonurgent can be drawn “only in retrospect.” (2) The uncertainty and necessary caution in planning makes creating a plan for elective surgeries exceptionally challenging.  In fact, at University of California San Francisco Hospital, Dr. Theodosopoulos, a neurosurgeon on staff, estimates that it will take six months or longer to clear up the backlog of surgeries that continues to grow by the day. (3)  Facilities around the world are sorting through similar demands.

And where does all of this leave patients like Kate.  They are left to wait, and to wonder, and to worry.  As facilities begin to resume elective surgeries, a critical component of the plan must be centered around patient communications.  The American College of Surgeons gave clear guidance.  “Surgery patients may have myriad questions and concerns regarding the ramp-up period.  Clear messaging and communication will be paramount.” (4) That clear messaging, though, revolves around having structured visibility into the plan for working through the backlog.  It’s an incredible conundrum for facilities and for patients alike.  As hospitals begin resuming elective surgeries patients like Kate, desperate for answers, will begin calling surgeons asking for when they can receive necessary treatment.  In the absence of a plan, the surgeon’s office can’t provide any comfort.  As Kate was recently told, “we’ll call you when we have a date for you.”

That void of information doesn’t give Kate any comfort.  Not knowing how long she will be in that void makes it even worse.

Together, we can lift each other up!

-Marcus Perez, EVP

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