What You Need to Know About Having Elective Surgery During COVID-19

Michael Bordonada
Published Jan 18, 2024


Thanks to COVID-19, many people are advised to avoid healthcare facilities unless absolutely necessary. However, this puts many patients in a tough spot. How do you tell if the procedure your doctor recommended is essential? Should you reschedule or risk a condition getting worse? If you've been considering elective surgery, there are a few things you need to know.

Deciding If the Surgery Is Worth The Risk


According to Dr. George Hwang, the most important factor is how necessary the surgery is. You need to carefully consider what will happen if you wait to have the surgery. Keep in mind that many other people may also be putting off their surgery. You might have to wait a while to reschedule because there may be a huge backlog of other patients needing to change their procedure dates.

Some elective surgeries, like cosmetic surgery, are not urgent. However, some elective surgeries like polyp removal may cause major medical problems if delayed. There are also surgeries like carpal tunnel release that are not technically urgent, but putting them off can greatly impair your quality of life. You should talk to your doctor and see whether they think you can wait before having the surgery or not.

Considering Your Personal Health When Making the Choice


Another big part of your decision is how your own personal health will change your risks. Those who have conditions like diabetes, lung disease, or cardiovascular disease may need to recover in the intensive care unit after even minor elective surgeries. However, many hospitals do not have space in these wards right now, so you could risk not getting proper care after your procedure.

There are also certain health conditions that make it more dangerous for you to be in potentially infectious regions. Those with weakened immune systems due to cancer, HIV, autoimmune disorders, or other conditions may want to stay isolated as much as possible. Your doctor may also recommend staying at home instead of getting surgery if you have asthma, COPD, or other lung conditions that make it especially dangerous to catch COVID.

Picking A Facility with Trusted COVID Prevention Methods


It is perfectly understandable to be worried about catching COVID during your surgery. Even if the facility is not in an area where COVID patients are treated, there is always a risk in being in small, enclosed spaces with others. Therefore, you need to make sure you pick a clinic that is carefully following all CDC and WHO recommended safety measures. Some facilities are providing this information online, but you can also call or email them to see what they are doing to prevent COVID transmission.

Start by asking if the staff is getting adequate amounts of personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators. Next, ensure all staff and patients are being screened and tested. It can also be helpful to find a clinic that provides social distancing methods, such as waiting in your car instead of a waiting room or keeping some beds empty in the recovery ward. You may also want to ask what the facility's patient load is like. In hospitals where COVID patients are also being treated, ask if these patients are being treated and getting surgeries in a separate area.

Figuring Out If You Need To Schedule A COVID Test in Advance


At least a few weeks before the procedure, you need to call the facility and ask if they require patients to show a negative COVID test before the procedure. In many areas, you can expect to get turned away from the facility if you decline testing. There are rapid COVID tests, but most hospitals would prefer to save those for patients in immediate need. Therefore, they may ask that patients getting elective surgery have their test one to three days before their surgery.

Asking about this in advance can save you from any difficulties on the day of the procedure. Some clinics also ask patients who tested early to self-isolate following the test. All of this is inconvenient, but it ensures that you do not transmit COVID to any other at risk patients or healthcare workers in the facility. Unless you are willing to comply with the facility's testing procedures, you should not go ahead with elective surgery.

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