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Predicting a Return to Normalcy for Pathologists

Predicting a Return to Normalcy for Pathologists

On March 18, 2020 at the White House Task Force Press Briefing, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that all elective surgeries, non-essential medical, surgical, and dental procedures would be delayed during the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The rationale for this was that as more healthcare providers would be increasingly asked to assist with the COVID-19 response, it would be critical that they consider whether non-essential surgeries and procedures could be delayed so they could preserve personal protective equipment (PPE), beds, and ventilators. “The reality is clear and the stakes are high: we need to preserve personal protective equipment for those on the front lines of this fight,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. The announcement went on to say that this deferment of surgeries would not only preserve equipment but also free up healthcare workforce to care for the patients who would be most in need. Additionally, healthcare providers were asked to encourage patients to remain home, unless there was an emergency, to protect others while also limiting their exposure to the virus. The recommendations outlined factors that would be considered for postponing elective surgeries, and non-essential medical, surgical, and dental procedures. Those factors included patient risk factors, availability of beds, staff and PPE, and the urgency of the procedure. The proposal’s goal was to help providers to focus on addressing more urgent cases and preserve resources needed for the COVID-19 response.

Now fast forward four months later and hospitals are starting to see the impact of this deferment. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, an orthopedic periodical, published a study in which researchers attempted to forecast the post-COVID-19 volume of elective surgeries and the recovery time for the hospitals to be back to full capacity.

The researchers outlined optimistic and pessimistic recovery scenarios with the assumption that elective surgeries would resume in June 2020. In the most optimistic scenario it was found that it would take 7 months for health systems to have the capacity to be able to perform 90% of the surgical backlog that has been created by the CMS COVID-19 Taskforce’s recommendation. At the other end of the scale, in the pessimistic scenario, the study showed that it would take 16 months to complete 90% of the deferred surgeries.  Even in the optimistic 7 month recovery window, two years after the end of the elective-surgery deferment, there could still be a cumulative backlog of more than 1 million surgical cases.

Although the future is unpredictable and this virus could go in any direction over the remainder of this year, pathologists should not expect surgical volumes to return to normal this year, and even when they do, perhaps seven months from now, it could take up to two years to recover the rest of the backlog.

Written by Andy Harner, Vice President of Client Services

Pathology Billing Company

Andy oversees Medusind’s Virginia-based service delivery for pathology organizations.

His team, like all of Medusind, delivers outstanding practice performance, streamlines the collection and reporting of quality data, and helps pathology organizations achieve their business goals, big or small.

Get a quote or learn more about Medusind’s Pathology Billing and Practice Management solutions.