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CMS issues recommendations on adult elective surgeries, nonessential procedures during COVID-19

Healthcare providers should encourage patients to remain home unless there is an emergency to protect others and limit their exposure.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

At the White House Task Force Press Briefing on Wednesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that all elective surgeries, nonessential medical, surgical, and dental procedures will be delayed during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

As more healthcare providers are increasingly being asked to assist with the COVID-19 response, it is critical that they consider whether nonessential surgeries and procedures can be delayed so they can preserve personal protective equipment, beds and ventilators, the agency said.

This will not only preserve equipment, but also free up the healthcare workforce to care for the patients who are most in need. And as states and the nation as a whole work towards limiting the spread of COVID-19, healthcare providers should encourage patients to remain home unless there is an emergency, to protect others while also limiting their exposure to the virus. They should also urge patients to follow President Trump's recently issued guidelines to help slow the spread of the virus.


The recommendations provide a framework for hospitals and clinicians to implement immediately during the COVID-19 response.

The recommendations outline factors that should be considered for postponing elective surgeries and nonessential medical, surgical, and dental procedures. Those factors include patient risk factors, availability of beds, staff and PPE, and the urgency of the procedure. The recommendations will help providers to focus on addressing more urgent cases and preserve resources needed for the COVID-19 response.

The decision about proceeding with nonessential surgeries and procedures will be made at the local level by the clinician, patient, hospital, and state and local health departments.

These recommendations, and earlier CMS guidance and actions in response to the COVID-19 virus, are part of the ongoing White House Task Force efforts. The federal government has set up a website with more information, as well as a Current Emergencies Website for a complete and updated list of CMS actions.


Healthcare workers on the front lines of treating the disease are at risk of exposure due to the nature of their jobs, and there are things they can be doing to protect themselves. As care teams come to terms with the nature of the coronavirus and its spread, best practices are starting to emerge.

Those strategies will become increasingly important as healthcare organizations look to protect their staff members from contracting the disease. They are vital components in ensuring that workforce shortages don't make the situation worse.


"The guidance from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on adult elective surgery is a vital step in allocating resources during the pandemic," said Dr. Patrice A. Harris, president of the American Medical Association. "As hospitals and physician practices plan for anticipated surges of patients needing care for COVID-19 infections, health professionals must use their expertise to develop allocation policies that are fair and safeguard the welfare of patients. The CMS guidance offers needed flexibility to physicians by allowing them to consider the imperative of resource conservation, especially personal protective equipment.

"The nation's physicians know challenging days are coming," she said. "We are preparing for it and are grateful that the federal government understands that physicians need to have flexibility when responding to this threat."

Twitter: @JELagasse

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