Approaching “Elective” Surgery in the Era of COVID-19

Author: Michael Kessler

November 1, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges for the health care system. To meet capacity demands, hospitals around the world suspended surgeries deemed to be elective. In hand surgery, numerous pathologies are treated on an elective basis, but a delay or absence of care may result in poorer outcomes. In this article, the authors present an ethical framework for prioritizing elective surgery during a period of resource scarcity. First, a safe delay is possible only if deferral will not result in permanent injury. Second, a delay in care will come with tolerable costs and impositions that can be appropriately managed in the future. Third, a safe delay will preserve the bioethical principle of patient autonomy. This framework design is applicable to ambulatory surgery in any period of crisis that may strain resources, but further considerations may be important if an operation requires hospital admission. ​This article was published in the Journal of Hand Surgery and co-authored by Berkley Center Managing Director Michael J. Kessler.

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