May 19, 2020 - Health

Spine and joint procedures have taken a dive during the pandemic

Adapted from Strata Decision Technology; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Adapted from Strata Decision Technology; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Hospitals and outpatient offices have canceled elective procedures and surgeries en masse to prepare for the coronavirus, but some treatments have been more "elective" than others.

The big picture: Health care services have fallen across the board. The most pronounced drops have come in eye, spine and joint replacement surgeries.

By the numbers: Volumes this year for pretty much every hospital service have plummeted by at least 33% when compared with the same six-week stretch in 2019, according to a new analysis by hospital software firm Strata Decision Technology, which looked at procedure volume data at 51 hospital systems.

  • This includes major drops in lucrative, high-volume hospital specialties such as spine (45%), orthopedics (43%) and cardiology (35%).
  • Outpatient specialties that have quicker procedures, like those in ophthalmology (50%) and dermatology (44%), have fallen the most.
  • Cancer procedures have declined less than most others (18%), given the necessity of care.

Between the lines: Some specific procedures within these specialties have fallen even more than the averages show.

  • For example, within orthopedics, hospitals have almost completely stopped knee replacement surgeries in April, and they've dropped in total by more than 68% when comparing the same six-week periods in 2019 and 2020.
  • Hip replacements are down 52%.

The big picture: Hospitals and outpatient offices are starting to resume some of these operations depending on their states' coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, but the volumes likely won't return quickly as people fear the risks of catching the coronavirus in a health care setting.

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