This year is looking to be one of changes and big possibilities for surgeons. While 2020 brought declines in surgical revenue and drops in patient intake, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a paradigm shift. Adaptations and innovations designed to cope with the pandemic could be a boon for the surgical field in 2021, and changes in malpractice coverage could impact how surgeons conduct business this year.
Here are some things to look for as we move through the year:
The comeback of elective surgery. The COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to most elective surgeries across the country. In March of 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released guidelines that recommended postponing or cancelling elective and non-essential surgical procedures. When stay-at-home mandates went into effect shortly thereafter, it further complicated physicians’ abilities to provide elective care. The result was an overall 35% drop in surgical volumes from March 2020-July 2020.
However, with the decrease in new COVID-19 cases, the rollout of the vaccine, relaxation of stay-at-home orders, and adaptations in healthcare to make surgical environments safer, elective surgeries are on an astronomical upswing. Part of this rise is from the backlog of surgeries not performed during the pandemic (it’s suspected that there is a backlog of over 1 million orthopedic surgeries in the United States). With this news, surgical revenues are expected to jump and get back to pre-pandemic numbers, but surgeons should beware of burnout when trying to keep pace with surgical demands. Burnout is a leading cause of medical mistakes that can result in a malpractice claim.
Medical malpractice insurance rates aren’t going down – but they aren’t going up either. Many insurance providers for other verticals (auto, homeowners) offered discounts to their customers to help cope with the 2020 pandemic. This was not the case for medical malpractice insurance. Rates for neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, plastic surgeons and bariatric surgeons maintained at their pre-pandemic prices. However, the onslaught of elective surgeries did not cause a rise in rates for surgical coverage, and rates are expected to be flat over the first two quarters of 2021.
Make sure any surgical specialty is covered by insurance. Certain types of surgery are more high-risk than others, making them less lucrative for medical malpractice insurance companies to cover. Bariatric surgery is one type that is sometimes excluded from a surgical medical malpractice policy. With the rise in elective surgery, it is now more crucial than ever for bariatric surgeons and all surgical specialists to check their medical malpractice coverage and make sure they are protected.
The future of robotic surgery in the wake of the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a rise in the use of telemedicine and telehealth, and it demonstrated a need for remote treatment options across all specialties. Robotic surgical tools like the da Vinci and Ion are providing new avenues for surgical teams to remotely perform surgery. Though advancements in remote surgical technology and processes are needed before telesurgery becomes mainstream, the advent of telemedicine in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is a harbinger for what’s to come with surgery. Expect telemedicine to play a larger role in the surgeon-patient relationship in 2021.