In the midst of all the buzz about the H1N1 virus, you may not be surprised to hear that some elective surgical procedures may be postponed or cancelled in the weeks and months to come. Are U.S. hospitals concerned about contagion? Perhaps to some extent. But the reason most health care professionals give for considering this measure is simply to conserve resources.
A week ago, USA Today checked in with some of the staff of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, one of the U.S. hospitals looking at limiting elective surgery if the need to deal with H1N1 demands it. One physician told the story of the hospital’s worst day in recent memory, October 11th, when swine flu patients came in to the pediatric emergency room at the rate of 15 to 20 every hour. That’s almost triple the average rate.
Doctors at Johns Hopkins expect the wave of additional emergency room visits to continue or grow as flu season hits full stride. And increased traffic in the ER means more people needing hospitalization and even intensive care to make a full recovery.
In fact, that’s one interesting aspect of the H1N1 phenomenon. Hospitals considering cutting back on elective surgery are not so much concerned about spreading H1N1 to other patients. Rather, cutbacks would help ensure there are enough beds and enough staff to attend to those who need professional care to recover from swine flu.
U.S. hospitals are not alone in preparing to implement coping measures in case of another wave of swine flu victims. In fact, Canada seems to be pulling out all the stops across the country to tackle the H1N1 challenge head on. Two weeks ago, the Vancouver Sun reported that British Columbia Children’s Hospital is prepared to shut off elective surgery if required. A doctor on staff, Eric Skarsgard, noted that, “The domino effect of increased ILI [influenza-like illness] on other services in a fixed capacity system is inevitable. As more resources are needed to care for the ILI population, our ability to provide business-as-usual care to the rest of our patients is compromised.”
In Montreal, the Quebec Health Department has urged hospitals to postpone internal meetings.