Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, patients have experienced delays in treatment for “elective” orthopedic conditions due to heightened safety requirements to minimize public spread of the virus.
As an orthopedist, I have seen many examples of patients whose scheduled surgeries were delayed because of the pandemic. They include a factory worker who can’t return to his job because of an unstable fracture in his upper arm; a retired housewife and new grandmother who can’t sleep and has difficulty walking due to a painful arthritic knee; and a high school junior who needs surgery for a hip condition so he can play football in the fall and earn a college scholarship. Most orthopedists know of similar patient examples.
These patients’ surgeries and many others were planned in our department for March. When COVID-19 emerged in Iowa they were postponed. At that time we needed to reserve beds for potential COVID-19 patients, comply with the state’s guidelines, conserve essential personal protective equipment, and maintain social distancing to keep everyone safe and minimize risk of spread. It was the right thing to do.
In the months since the onset of COVID-19 in Iowa, there have been a lot of changes to health care. The virus infection rate has plateaued or is declining in many counties, and UIHC and other health care facilities have gone to remarkable efforts to make the hospital environment safe for patients and health care professionals.
However, some patients are still nervous about going to hospitals and clinics for elective procedures when the issues they’re facing are not life-threatening. These feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are completely understandable and normal, and patients need to know what to expect to feel comfortable returning for care.
To alleviate this anxiety, patients should research what their provider is doing to make it safe to receive care. Many health care providers, including UI Health Care, are posting updates about the measures they are taking on their websites and social media. If patients still have concerns, they should not hesitate to simply call their provider and ask questions. They will soon see there is no reason to put off their care.
As for UI Hospitals & Clinics, we have created a new standard for safety that will remain in place indefinitely including:
• Separate treatment areas for patients with COVID-19.
• Extra cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, rooms, etc.
• Many new hand hygiene locations throughout our facilities.
• Limits on visitors to support social distancing.
• Limited entry points that allow universal temperature checks and screening for signs of respiratory illness.
• Requirements of face shields for all staff members and masks for all patients and visitors.
• Changes to waiting rooms to accommodate appropriate social distancing.
While COVID-19 is still present in the community, we have entered a new phase of this pandemic. Health care is no longer all about COVID-19. Hospitals and clinics are probably safer than they have ever been. There is abundant capacity for patients to seek care and, if necessary, receive needed surgeries that will improve their quality of life. Patients and their doctors can work together to address chronic pain, a loss of ability to participate in activities important to them, and other common musculoskeletal problems.
At UIHC, we are now seeing many of the patients who were postponed in March and April. We can now schedule and fix the arm of that factory worker so he can return to work; the grandmother with the arthritic knee should have the ability to keep up with her grandchildren this summer; and that high schooler should have a chance at a collegiate athletic career.
We have gone through unprecedented challenges because of COVID-19 and we are all adjusting to a new normal. Today, orthopedic surgeons can once again help their patients decrease pain and improve their functional limitations so they can achieve their life goals.
If you or a relative were previously planning on surgery or are experiencing arm, leg or spine pain, take control of your care and talk to an orthopedist who can work with you to determine the best path forward to improve your quality of life now and into the future.