If the last 15 months has shown us anything, it’s that preparedness is key to surviving novel infectious diseases. This doesn’t just refer to the constant medical research trying to keep us one step ahead, but also contingency plans in various health industries that are directly or indirectly affected by the fallout of a global pandemic. Perhaps no other health sub-industry has been so affected by the knock-on effect of Covid-19 as elective surgery.
From March 2020, hospitals across the US postponed elective surgeries in an effort to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and manage shortages of both staff and personal protective equipment (PPE). A July 2020 survey of 25 large hospital systems in the US saw a 35% decrease in operating room volumes from March-July. While surgeons and hospitals are working through postponed procedures, the impact of Covid is still evident, with one October 2020 report projecting a backlog of more than one million joint and spinal surgeries by mid-2022.
Another layer to this problem is that numerous reports show Americans have avoided medical care during the pandemic, with a Cleveland Clinic survey finding that approximately 85% of Americans were concerned about contracting Covid-19 when seeking medical treatment. The survey was conducted between November and December 2020, meaning the successful rollout of the vaccination program in the US can give us hope that more people are seeking treatment now.
However this just emphasizes further the need for a modernized system of care, particularly within surgery, so patients can feel safe and assured. Below are four changes we can expect to see within surgical healthcare in a post pandemic world.
Restrictions on who is allowed in the operating rooms
We can expect that operating rooms will be kept under a tight watch on who is coming and going. By minimizing the amount of foot traffic, this will ultimately lower the risk of contamination and infection. Even when the risk of Covid is minimized, we are perhaps better informed than ever on the facts surrounding airborne viruses and their transmissibility, meaning less people is the best way to keep patients safe from any kind of germs or viruses. This will affect people like medical vendors, extra OR staff, nurse practitioners, and physicians’ assistants. Instead, we will likely see a greater shift towards telemedicine and artificial intelligence.
Moving forward it is also likely that several more sanitation measures will be implemented to combat any type of virus or bacteria from lingering throughout the OR suite. This will affect cleaning crews and nursing staff who will need to adapt to new pre and post-surgery cleaning procedures. Instead, this presents opportunities for vendors with timely and effective sanitation solutions that offer effortless implementation into the OR.
More AI and robotics
After the pause on procedures during the initial Covid-19 wave, surgeons are now being asked to see more patients and perform more surgeries. However there is a negative correlation between demand in healthcare and the suppliers of healthcare (i.e. surgeons). One solution, although it is not possible today, is to give surgeons the ability to be in several places at once. This could look like quite a futuristic solution where doctors would no longer scrub into cases, but sit in a control room while they are operating on 2-3 patients at a time, with the assistance of AI and robotics.
Outpatient surgery will surge over hospital procedures
With more people being wary of visiting healthcare facilities, perhaps seeing them as dirty or contaminated settings, this is increasing the appeal of a surgery center procedure. Given the advancements in technique and recovery, we can be confident that we will see less hospital surgeries and a lot more surgery center procedures, meaning people can get home within the same day for standard procedures.
These changes certainly won’t happen overnight, but nothing has emphasized the urgency for newer and more efficient surgery solutions than the pandemic – the time for innovation is now.
George Kramb is the CEO of PatientPartner, a platform that connects pre-surgical patients with people who have already had the same procedure. With a background in healthcare working with medical device companies, he has assisted surgeons through hundreds of operations using medical machinery. He is on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List for Consumer Technology.