With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, it’s understandable that many people have delayed elective surgery and certain other medical procedures. In fact, in September 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 4 out of 10 Americans avoided medical care due to concerns related to COVID-19.
If you have been advised to have elective orthopedic surgery to manage pain or increase your mobility and quality of life, receiving care during this time can be stressful. But you may have less reason to wait than you think. Below, HSS experts share what people should know about elective surgery at the Special Surgery Hospital right now.
1. New safety guidelines at HSS help prevent the spread of infections.
Infection control has long been a priority at HSS, as infections can affect the health and recovery of our patients. HSS has always maintained a very low infection rate compared to other hospitals in New York State.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread in 2020, extensive safety measures were put in place at the national, state and municipal levels to prevent infection in hospitals. These guidelines have significantly reduced the risk of infection for patients as well as staff. All HSS staff members are vaccinated against COVID-19. Additionally, at HSS, all patients, staff, vendors, and visitors are screened for symptoms such as fever, cough, and muscle aches upon entry. All surgical patients should undergo PCR testing for COVID-19 infection prior to surgery.
“HSS is taking all possible measures to protect patients and staff from COVID-19,” said Andy O. Miller, MD, chief of infectious disease medicine at HSS. “Our measures have been very effective.
The HSS has gone beyond CDC guidelines, with new surgical practices reducing infections and improved sterilization methods. “Infection prevention has always been one of our top priorities and most significant accomplishments,” says Douglas E. Padgett, MD, HSS Associate Surgeon-in-Chief and Deputy Medical Director. “HSS has long been recognized as being at the forefront of measures to ensure the safety of our patients as well as our staff.
Hospital staff, like all patients and visitors, are also checked daily for signs of the virus. Staff, visitors and patients must wear masks and social distancing measures are in effect. Staff also wear PPE such as goggles, gloves and masks as part of patient care.
2. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and you can get one before your surgery.
Studies show that the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States are safe and effective in preventing infection. They are also extremely effective in preventing serious illness, should you contract COVID-19 after vaccination. Vaccines are given by injection in the arm, just like the flu vaccine. None are capable of transmitting COVID-19 to you.
At HSS, we recommend that surgical patients who are eligible to receive the vaccine do so at least seven days before or seven days after their surgery. Our surgeons’ office staff helps patients coordinate the schedule.
Watch a video to learn more about COVID-19 vaccination and surgery
3. For some people, now may be a good time to consider elective surgery.
“It’s normal to be anxious about just about anything right now,” says Roberta Horton, assistant vice president of social work programs. “Making a decision about surgery right now can seem especially difficult.”
However, she adds, “the ability to improve your function could help you feel stronger and more in control at a difficult time.”
Horton advises keeping an open mind. “If you’re on the fence, learn more about what would be involved rather than rule it out altogether.” You may even decide it’s time to take care of your medical issues, because you might not miss so many in-person activities.
4. Virtual tours can help with travel issues.
For some people, the pandemic has made travel more difficult. Virtual tours can reduce the number of in-person appointments you need to attend.
A virtual tour is similar to an in-person office visit, except that it takes place online, on your desktop computer, laptop, or tablet or smartphone. You and your surgeon will be able to see and talk to each other. You can ask questions as you would during an office visit. Your surgeon can discuss treatment options with you, review any imaging work or other test results, and answer your questions. Family members can even join in, if needed.
During the pandemic, it has also become more common for people to do their physical therapy virtually. “I’ve been impressed with how well patients are doing with this form of physical therapy,” says Mathias P. Bostrom, MD, chief of adult joint reconstruction and replacement at HSS.
At HSS, we offer step-by-step instructions to help you prepare before your visit. You will also be able to have your pre- and post-operative appointments at an HSS center in New Jersey, Westchester County, Connecticut and Long Island, to avoid having to come to New York.
5. Delaying care can be bad for your health.
Orthopedic care is generally considered optional or non-essential. But if you experience pain that prevents you from doing your job, sleeping, or performing other daily activities, consider seeing a healthcare professional. Dr. Padgett recommends seeing both an orthopedic specialist and a primary care physician to rule out other medical conditions.
Don’t worry too much if you have pain for a day or two that you can manage by taking an over-the-counter pain reliever. But these drugs can have negative side effects that add up faster than you think, so don’t rely on them too long.
6. Make your decision based on information rather than fear.
It can be daunting to think about, but arming yourself with some basic information can go a long way in developing a plan that’s right for you. If you decide to see an orthopedic surgeon, make sure you get answers to the questions most important to you. You don’t need to commit if you’re not ready, but this discussion can clarify your options. You can also talk to family or friends about how they can help you and what other types of services might be helpful after the procedure, if you opt for surgery, suggests Horton.