During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers have seemingly been busier than ever. Hospitals have pivoted quickly to manage coronavirus patients and perform screenings for the virus. However, these healthcare systems have steadily lost revenue during the public health emergency.
This loss of revenue can largely be attributed to the suspension of elective procedures. Soon, hospitals and clinic will be able to resume elective procedures on a limited basis.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that hospitals and clinics will be able to resume elective procedures, with restrictions, effective Monday, April 27.
“Based upon the guidance of Dr. Smith and his team, we are lifting the restriction on elective procedures in our hospitals in Arkansas and our clinics,” he said. “This will allow them to go back to business. It will allow everybody in Arkansas to have access to the more routine procedures that have been put off for the last 45 days.”
The resumption of elective procedures is occurring sooner than expected, Hutchinson admitted, but he said that he had confidence in the relaxation of restrictions. “With our number of hospitalizations, with the limited spread across the state, we feel comfortable with that,” he said.
According to Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) Secretary Dr. Nathaniel Smith, there will be restrictions on elective procedures to limit the spread of COVID-19. Patients will be required not have had contact with anyone infected with COVID-19 in the previous 14 days and the patient cannot have COVID-19 symptoms. In addition, patients must be tested for COVID-19 in the 48 hours before having a procedure.
When asked if it is feasible to have patients be tested within 48 hours of the procedures, Smith said that new technologies have lowered the time necessary to get test result. He cited a COVID-19 test from Abbott Laboratories that provides results within 15 minutes, as well as other tests that can give results within hours, instead of days.
“That’s why we’ve allowed up to 48 hours. It would be more ideal if it was done the same day as the procedure, but we’ve allowed that. In terms of the commercial labs and their turnaround time, we were able to get over 1,000 tests done mostly at the commercial labs for the Cummins Unit. We got those results within 24 hours. There are much faster turnaround times,” he said.
The relaxation of restrictions for elective procedures will be an “incremental” process, according to Smith. To begin, only day procedures will be allowed. This will allow hospitals and clinics to treat patients who have limited underlying medical conditions and are not as sick – as a way of limiting the possibilities for COVID-19 transmission.
“Initially, we’re going to encourage the facilities with a smaller volume and build up to make sure that they have adequate supplies of PPE and other measures in place to eliminate the risk or dramatically reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities,” Smith said.
The Department of Health issued a directive on April 3 to reschedule “procedures, testing and office visits that can be safely postponed.” The directive also included routine dental and eye care visits among the medical services that must be postponed.
The directive came after the Centers for Disease Control and the ADH issued guidelines on March 30, recommending that health care systems prioritize urgent care and emergency procedures.
In a previous interview with Arkansas Money & Politics, Conway Regional Health System CEO Matt Troup said that suspending elective procedures has had a detrimental effect on hospitals’ bottom lines. “So, in some sense, we’re taking revenue and patients out of the hospital, which has had a negative financial impact,” he said.
“I have colleagues all across the country that I’ve talked to over the past few weeks, and all of them are cutting back on elective surgeries, which is typically where hospitals tend to enjoy a pretty strong revenue stream. Now we’re taking that out of the equation in preparation for COVID-19.”