Annual checkups. Hip replacement surgery. A root canal. Fertility treatment.
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As the COVID-19 pandemic marches on, it seems like most health-related procedures are being rescheduled, cancelled or look different than they did before. (But aren’t you glad that you’ve finally figured out the whole virtual appointment thing?)
Healthcare providers are having to make tough decisions as they prepare for the flood of sick patients as the virus — and uncertainty — continues to spread.
“The biggest concern for healthcare right now is having the capacity to treat those who are or will be sick because of coronavirus,” says James Merlino, MD. “That’s why hospitals are taking protective measures so seriously and why social distancing is so critical. It could be the difference between life and death.”
And what exactly does “capacity” mean for hospitals? Beds. Rooms. Supplies. Able, healthy people who can come into work. Enough doctors and nurses to treat patients. But not only that, capacity can extend outward to include police, firefighters and researchers who are working to find treatment and vaccines.
Unfortunately, increasing a hospital or care facility’s capacity means postponing many non-essential procedures and appointments. (Keep in mind that non-essential does not always mean that it’s optional. It just means that it can be scheduled in advance because it’s not life-threatening.)
“If you’re scheduled for a procedure or an appointment that can be postponed for a couple of weeks, consider rescheduling it yourself if it hasn’t already been,” says Dr. Merlino. “This will give hospitals more time to prepare for the coronavirus instead and it’s a great way for you to help out and do your part.”
But no doubt, this can be incredibly frustrating for people, because when something directly impacts you – it feels essential. You’ve waited six months for your knee replacement surgery only for it to get rescheduled. Or maybe your IVF treatment that you’ve prepared for is now suddenly postponing your dream of parenthood.
These changes and cancellations can be disappointing, but the reason behind them is to save as many lives as possible, says Dr. Merlino. COVID-19 is serious and hospitals and other medical providers aren’t taking it lightly. Try to remember that the next time you get stressed out about all the changes happening around you. These changes are happening to try to help as many people as possible.
A large number of people becoming very sick at the same time could overwhelm healthcare systems. Not seeing patients whose appointments and procedures can wait will give facilities more room, resources and time to prepare for the surge of COVID-19 cases.
And yet these protective measures that hospitals are taking aren’t the only things that matter. Social distancing, staying at home and quarantining or isolating when you’re sick (or suspect that you are) is the second piece of this puzzle.
The longer it takes for coronavirus to spread through the population, the more time that hospitals have to prepare. We can slow the spread by following protective measures, which includes postponing non-essential appointments and procedures, along with social distancing.
“Everything we’re doing right now will help determine if we can slow the spread of COVID-19,” says Dr. Merlino. “And we must slow down the rate of infection so that hospitals stand a fighting chance.”
Still, there will be people who need emergency care outside of COVID-19. Car accidents, heart attacks and broken bones will still continue to happen. Cancelling or postponing non-essential appointments and procedures will ensure that care facilities can handle regular emergencies as well as coronavirus.
The longer it takes COVID-19 to spread, the greater the chance we give to hospitals to care for those who need it most.