Why is Everyone Calling My Surgery Elective?

In the wake of COVID-19, you’ve probably heard your joint replacement surgery called elective. This can be frustrating because your pain is real… it’s not like you’ve just decided to have a random procedure. In this article, Dr. Dumont provides some clarification on the idea of elective surgery.

The last two months have generated a number of new terms that now feel right at home in our vocabulary. Social distancing. Quarantine. Coronavirus. Contact tracing. The list goes on.  If you have a musculoskeletal condition or injury, one word you may have struggled to accept is elective

With the COVID-19 pandemic, your surgery may have been postponed because only emergency and urgent procedures were occurring in most places across the country. The sting of having your surgery referred to as not urgent, or elective, can be tough. Many patients have struggled dealing with the term elective.

You didn’t choose to develop arthritis in your hip, knee, or shoulder.

You didn’t choose to tear your rotator cuff.

You didn’t choose to fall and tear a ligament in your knee at work last month. 

The word elective is inaccurate when it comes to describing most surgeries. Yes, some procedures are purely cosmetic in nature (usually not in orthopedics), and perhaps the elective classification fits those ok. But, a different term would be more accurate for surgeries that are performed to relieve suffering and restore function. To me, the term scheduled makes more sense in many ways.

Non urgent (or scheduled) procedures were postponed in the U.S. and many parts of the world over the past few months, in order to prepare for potential surges and hospital resources needed for patients affected by COVID-19. In areas disproportionately affected by COVID-19, hospitals have struggled for space, masks, and human resources. Conversely, other areas have been more mildly affected. 

The resumption of orthopedic procedures has begun in many places in the country. The decision to resume these procedures is largely made by hospitals and surgery centers while relying on local, state and federal recommendations and guidelines. Resuming surgeries also means that new precautions are necessary. Many healthcare facilities will continue to limit visitors and require masks for any person entering their facilities. For patients planning a scheduled surgery, COVID-19 tests may be required for the protection of the patient undergoing surgery, other hospital/facility patients, and their staff.  Furthermore, screening patients and staff for any signs or symptoms of a coronavirus infection any time they come to the facility is now standard at most centers.

Scheduling a previously postponed surgery may prove somewhat more challenging, given that hospitals and surgeons now have larger than normal backlogs of patients waiting for surgery. Many facilities, although resuming operations, are not able to perform their normal number of surgeries per day, given that additional precautions are necessary during and between procedures to reduce the potential spread of the virus. Your surgeon and their team are likely your best resource to determine when your surgery might be rescheduled.

As your doctors, we believe you when you describe the pain that your injury or condition causes you every day. Your struggles are what drive us to keep improving the techniques and technology we use. It’s our job to find ways to lift the burden of pain and dysfunction from your life. We are hopeful that as time advances, we can continue to safely resume providing the best and safest surgical care to all our patients.

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