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Monday, Oct. 19, 2020

Seniors and Surgery

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Important Considerations for Undergoing Surgery in the COVID-19 Era

In a typical year, millions of seniors in the United States undergo operations ranging from outpatient cataract removal to more invasive procedures such as joint replacement or heart surgery. As we all know, 2020 has not been a typical year.

On March 21, Jimmy Guidry, M.D., Louisiana’s State Health Officer, issued a health-care directive stating, “Any and all medical and surgical procedures SHALL be postponed until further notice,” with a few exceptions such as emergency situations. This was especially true of elective surgeries.

These guidelines were established to reduce the infection rate of COVID-19, preserve the supply of personal protective equipment, increase hospital bed capacity and critical medical equipment such as ventilators as well as allow hospitals to adjust staffing.

According to the American Medical Association, “These safeguards, however, did not account for the physical and emotional challenges of delayed surgeries. The negative effects on patient health outcomes are being realized as delays become disruptions in care. The long-term effects of widespread delays and their influence on resources, outcomes and survival may not be apparent for some time.”

Although elective or “non-emergency” surgeries may be optional, it does not mean that they are unnecessary for one’s health. Unfortunately, postponing most surgeries, including some elective surgeries, may have a lasting impact on a person’s future health outcomes, a higher mortality rate or overall quality of life.

Better outcomes start with proper preparation. Prior to your scheduled surgery, avoid contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 or who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19. Practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings, wear a mask and wash your hands frequently. Monitor yourself daily for COVID-19 symptoms, including taking your temperature.

Today with most surgical procedures resuming, many seniors now find themselves with a surgery date back on the calendar. If you are concerned about your safety or that of a loved one for future surgery, here are a few important questions to ask before undergoing your procedure.

1. Ask about safety protocols for surgeons, anesthesiologists and hospital staff, as well as cleaning measures within the facility.

Your surgery team is very interested in making sure that the patient does not have COVID-19 upon admittance or at the time of surgery. You will be asked questions regarding symptoms such as fever, cough, sense of smell and taste, body aches, etc. You will also be required to get a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the scheduled procedure.

However, this commitment to safety should be reciprocated. You should be able to obtain a clear answer about how you will be protected from potential exposure from infected health-care workers and other patients while recuperating in the hospital. Although policies vary by hospital, they should all follow guidance from the CDC and the Louisiana Department of Health. Protections may include regular symptom monitoring of all health-care staff, proper use of personal protective equipment, separating surgical patient rooms from infected COVID-19 patients, daily sanitation of patient rooms and public spaces.

2. Ask about visitation policies before and after surgery.

COVID-19 has literally changed the landscape of our hospitals; even the waiting rooms have been redesigned to maintain social distancing and to help prevent the spread of the virus. In the same way, hospitals have changed visitation policies, which are particularly important as you are recovering from surgery. Today, masks and temperature checks upon entering the facility are required.

Don’t be surprised if visitors are limited to one per patient per day and within a limited time frame. If you desire for someone to stay overnight with you as you recuperate, will they be permitted? There may be some exceptions to these policies for surgical patients or depending on health status or special needs, but it’s important to know a hospital’s specific visitation policy in advance.

3. Ask whether pre- and post-operative visits will occur in person or via telehealth.

Whether you have an in-person visit with your surgeon before the day of surgery will largely depend on the type of surgery you are having and your local hospital’s policies. However, many hospitals are now offering expanded telehealth options to meet with your surgeon remotely via video-conferencing. Either way, it’s important to know ahead of time what these visits will entail. It’s important for those needing to visit the surgery clinic in person to remember these considerations for visiting your doctor.

Your day of surgery can be stressful for you and your loved ones. The last thing you want is to be unpleasantly surprised on the day of your procedure if you don’t like or understand the facility’s policies. Don’t hesitate to talk to your surgeon or other necessary personnel before admission. Understanding new protocols and safety measures can help ease your mind and alleviate fears resulting in a positive outcome.

Scott H. Green is a Certified Senior Advisor® and president of Preferred Care at Home of Northwest Louisiana. Green can be reached via email at scottg@preferhome.com.

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