GREENSBORO – Cone Health has announced that non-essential surgeries, medical procedures, office visits and imaging will be postponed, effective immediately.
The decision is part of a national effort to reduce the use of medical supplies, according to a Cone Health news release.
Novant Health and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center hospitals announced on Tuesday that they would postpone such surgeries.
“These uncertain times call for us to be judicious with our resources,” said Dr. Ed Gerhardt, chief of surgery at Cone Health. “We are curtailing elective and non-urgent procedures to support medical distancing as a way to prevent the spread of coronavirus.”
Cone Health relies on the clinical judgment of each patient’s medical team to decide which patients should remained scheduled, the release said.
“As part of our COVID-19 precautions, no procedure will be postponed that would not cause harm to the patient if it is not done within the next four weeks,” Gerhardt said in the release.
The teams at Cone Health have developed guidelines for which procedures would be considered medically necessary, like heart by-pass surgery, and which procedures could be delayed with less impact for the patient, like cosmetic surgery.
Decision has steep cost
Following the elective surgeries recommendation comes at a steep cost, both in delayed care for patients, and financially for health care systems that have grown increasingly dependent on outpatient procedures as a primary revenue stream.
There are 63 presumed or confirmed coronavirus cases in North Carolina, including one in Guilford County. Most of those infected are in self-quarantine and not receiving hospital care.
The Triad systems have been asked if they have changed staffing policies related to medical personnel age 60 and above since they are in the high-risk category for exposure to coronavirus.
Cone said that “nothing has changed regarding clinical staff (ages) 60 and over.”
Wake Forest Baptist advises employees that “those who are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 should use caution and consider limiting exposure, especially during higher-risk procedures if feasible based on staffing.”
Novant said in a statement that “we understand the unique position that healthcare workers are in during a potential outbreak. They’re serving on the frontlines.”
“As such, we are currently evaluating our attendance-related policy. Our policies must meet the need a potential surge of patients seeking care would generate, while also prioritizing the safety and health of our team members.”
Some more elective
Dr. Charles Dinerstein, medical director for the conservative-leaning American Council on Science and Health, said Monday that “some surgeries are less elective than others, and the judgment of the surgeon, along with shared decision-making with patients, is the best approach.”
“Any surgery can result in complications, and to increase the demand on hospital resources secondary to such complications is, to my mind, inappropriate at this time.”
Dinerstein said in terms of using medical staff ages 60 and older, “the role of medical staff, all of whom are at risk, is a decision best left to the community that is the hospital’s medical and nursing staff.
“Still, we need also to consider ancillary workers, including physical and occupational therapists, transporters, dietary staff and administrators. Those decisions can vary greatly.”
“I suspect that if we err, it will be to expose ourselves to greater risk while serving the greater good,” Dinerstein said. “That is what we signed up for when we went to medical and nursing school.”
Richard Craver of the Winston-Salem Joornal contributed to this report.