7 Tips for Having Elective Surgery During COVID-19

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    Preparing for Elective Surgery During a Pandemic
    If you have an elective surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic (and if your state allows it), you can expect the pre- and post-op experience to be very different from anything you might have gone through in the past. You may need to quarantine before your surgery, and you should anticipate undergoing COVID-19 screening and testing—possibly multiple times in advance of surgery. These tips for elective surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic will help you have the best possible experience. (Note: Elective surgery is any non-emergency surgery that is scheduled in advance or that can be delayed at least three months.)
  • closeup of hands holding smartphone during telehealth appointment on dining table next to glass of water
    1. Anticipate postponement and be flexible.
    Even if your area allows elective surgery right now, the situation can change in a moment’s notice. A sudden surge in COVID hospitalizations, for example, can divert resources to the ICU (intensive care unit) and away from non-essential areas like non-COVID surgical recovery units. Or, a supply chain disruption that causes personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies to fall could cause a facility to temporarily postpone non-essential surgeries. Have a contingency plan for how you will cope with a surgery postponement, including talking with your doctor or surgeon about receiving adequate pain management support until you can reschedule your surgery.
  • male doctor examining female patient's throat and performing a throat swab (sample of throat secretions for testing)
    2. Get details on COVID screening or testing in advance
    Be prepared to undergo preoperative screening for COVID-19. You’ll answer a series of health questions and have your temperature taken at least once before your surgery. You may also be tested for COVID-19 in the days leading up to your surgery, even if you’re not symptomatic. Ask in advance about the hospital’s or surgical facility’s COVID screening or testing requirements, including when and where testing will occur
  • Man carrying full shopping basket in grocery store
    3. Put together a quarantine plan.
    Some facilities or doctors ask patients to quarantine at home between the time they receive COVID-19 screening/testing and the day they arrive at the facility for their elective surgery. (Stay home and away from others not in your household, to reduce the risk of being exposed to COVID.) Find out in advance if you will need to quarantine, and then gather all the food, medicine, and other supplies you’ll need to live comfortably without leaving the house for several days. Also, obtain all the medical supplies you’ll need for your recovery so you can avoid going out (and potentially exposing yourself to COVID) during the first couple of weeks after you get home.

  • woman wearing face mask waiting for medical or dental appointment
    4. Ask about visitors and virtual waiting rooms.
    Some hospitals and surgical centers allow a limited number of visitors on the day of surgery and during the in-patient recovery period, while others don’t allow any visitors. If your facility offers a virtual waiting room instead of in-person visiting, find out how the technology works and ask your family members to install any required apps or software on their mobile devices. This will enable them to check in with the healthcare team for updates on your condition.
  • female doctor with digital tablet talking to female patient in medical exam
    5. Find out about PPE requirements.
    You and your visitors will need to wear a mask at all times inside the facility, but you may not be able to use your own masks. Ask in advance what types of personal protective equipment you and your visitors need to obtain to enter the facility. Some hospitals or surgical centers will issue you a clean, disposable mask each time you enter. Others might have different requirements. By asking in advance, no one in your group will be caught off-guard or unprepared.
  • senior, Caucasian male patient using digital tablet in hospital bed
    6. Plan to entertain yourself.
    In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, operating rooms (ORs) now undergo rigorous cleaning and disinfection between patients. These processes help make elective surgery safe during COVID-19, but they take longer than a typical OR cleaning. You (and your family members) may find yourselves waiting longer than usual for you to be taken back to the OR. What’s more, if your surgery involves an extended hospital stay (or recovery at a skilled nursing facility), anticipate possible restrictions on visiting practices, even if there are none right now.

  • healthcare worker visiting patient at home
    7. Observe COVID-safe practices with home helpers.
    It can be risky to allow anyone who doesn’t live with you into your home right now. However, you may require help after your surgery with tasks like caring for children or pets, cooking, or bathing. To reduce everyone’s risk of transmitting the SARS-CoV-2 virus, make sure you and your home helpers wear a mask at all times and stay at least 6 feet away from each other when inside your home. During direct personal care (with masks on), turn your heads away from each other to avoid inhaling each other’s breath. (Cloth and surgical face masks are very effective at containing respiratory droplets and particles, but they do not stop all particles from getting past the material. Your home health caregiver may be wearing an N95 respirator, which is more effective than a surgical mask.)

    If you will need skilled help at home after surgery and have concerns about COVID (and other transmissible infections), ask ahead of time what specific practices the home healthcare agency has in place to control the spread of infection, such as employee COVID testing and PPE. Knowing they are taking the utmost precautions may give you peace of mind that you are safe.
7 Tips for Having Elective Surgery During COVID-19

About The Author

As “the nurse who knows content,” Elizabeth Hanes, RN, works with national and regional healthcare systems, brands, agencies and publishers to produce all types of consumer-facing content. Formerly a perioperative and cosmetic surgery nurse, Elizabeth today uses her nursing knowledge to inform her writing on a wide variety of medical, health and wellness topics.
  1. Questions and Answers for Patients Regarding Elective Surgery and COVID-19. Last Reviewed May 2020. American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.org/en/treatment/questions-and-answers-for-patients-regarding-elective-surgery-and-covid-19/
  2. Joint Statement: Roadmap for Maintaining Essential Surgery during COVID-19 Pandemic. Last Updated August 10, 2020. American College of Surgeons. https://www.facs.org/covid-19/clinical-guidance/roadmap-maintain-essential-surgery
  3. CMS Adult Elective Surgery and Procedures Recommendations: Limit all non-essential planned surgeries and procedures, including dental, until further notice. April 7, 2020. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. https://www.cms.gov/files/document/covid-elective-surgery-recommendations.pdf
  4. State Guidance on Elective Surgeries. Ambulatory Surgery Center Association. Last Updated April 20, 2020. https://www.ascassociation.org/asca/resourcecenter/latestnewsresourcecenter/covid-19/covid-19-state

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Last Review Date: 2020 Oct 28
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