Over the past three months, nearly two-thirds of anesthesiologists have been asked to add critical care services to their practices to help treat patients diagnosed with COVID-19. From intubations and ventilation strategies, to critical care medicine and resuscitation of multiorgan failure, anesthesiologists have played a “vital [role] in the care of COVID-19 patients throughout the worldwide health care crisis,” according to a recent member survey by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).
The informal, non-scientific survey covered a wide range of issues related to the COVID-19 public health emergency, including financial issues, staffing concerns, and economic relief options. The analysis included responses from practices representing more than 4,000 physician anesthesiologists.
“This survey shows the amazing commitment our members have had in treating COVID-19 patients, even while putting themselves and their families at risk of the virus,” said ASA President Mary Dale Peterson, M.D., MSHCA, FACHE, FASA. “The stories I have been hearing are truly amazing – members leaving their homes to travel to the hard-hit areas of the U.S. At the same time, ASA is committed to helping our members seek out and advocate for economic relief options to help keep their practices afloat.”
Because in addition to the changing role of anesthesiologists, the survey also showed the financial toll that COVID-19 has taken on anesthesiologists. More than 90 percent of respondents said their case volume has decreased by more than 50 percent (most were at 70-80 percent) since the declaration of the national emergency.
Elective Procedures Resume
Now, most states are lifting at least some of their stay-at-home orders, and elective surgeries and procedures are resuming throughout the country. In fact, last week the Trump administration urged healthcare providers in states that had reached Phase II criteria for reopening their economies to “begin offering nonemergent, non-COVID-19 care.”
That encouragement came with new guidance, too, for continued “precautions to prevent the spread of the virus and optimize telehealth services to reduce the need for in-person services,” according to Fierce Healthcare.
“Those needing operations, vaccinations, procedures, preventive care, or evaluation for chronic conditions should feel confident seeking in-person care when recommended by their provider,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a prepared statement.
ASA also has partnered the American College of Surgeons, the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, and the American Hospital Association to develop a roadmap of eight principles and considerations to help health care organizations safely resume elective surgeries by assessing readiness, prioritization, and scheduling.
Citing “unprecedented furloughs and layoffs in the very industry that our nation is relying on during this time of crisis,” Peterson says “it is vital that hospitals and health systems safely return to providing this service, while continuing to care for critically ill COVID-19 patients. The good news is that in some of the hardest-hit areas, the curve has flattened.”
More Help Is Needed
But Peterson also feels the financial damage may be more than anesthesiologists can fix on their own.
“The CARES Act provides a number of mechanisms to help bridge between the national health emergency and resumption of elective procedures,” she says. “Although these funding bridges provide some relief for many in health care, including physician anesthesiologist practices that employ people in a wide variety of roles, more must be done to ensure that relief funds reach the breadth of physician practices.”
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