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COVID and work comp: delays in treatment = delays in recovery

Almost 400,000 surgeries (of all types) were cancelled each week during the 12-week COVID peak this spring. 

In North America, almost 1.2 million orthopedic surgeries were cancelled – the vast majority in the US. Across all countries, the orthopedic cancellation rate was 82%, the highest percentage of any type of surgery.

Assuming a 20 per cent increase in baseline surgical volume, the researchers estimated:
it would take countries a median of 45 (range 43–48) weeks to clear the backlog of operations resulting from 12 weeks of disruption due to COVID…
While surgical procedure volumes undoubtedly increased this summer, news reports indicate elective procedures are once again being postponed in Massachusetts and many other states.
Implication – claim durations are going to increase as patients requiring surgery are back on the waiting list. 
Even after elective procedures return, many patients will face weeks of therapy before they recover and return to full functionality.
Which leads us to PT.
The good news comes from MedRisk, a physical medicine management firm. Their annual Industry Trends Report shows post-surgical PT ramped up quickly this summer – after the COVID peak. (MedRisk is a consulting client)
The company also opined that the delay can complicate recovery because patients become “de-conditioned” while waiting months for surgery, although the delay can be mitigated by “pre-conditioning” patients with pre-surgery PT.
What does this mean for you?
These times are different and require different approaches to ensure rapid and complete recovery. “Pre-conditioning” may help your patients come out of surgery in better shape and feeling stronger…yes it’s different, and new, and a bit uncertain – but these times demand flexibility and creative approaches. 

4 thoughts on “COVID and work comp: delays in treatment = delays in recovery”

  1. I’d be interested in knowing how many of those planned surgeries were not needed, how many injured get better without the surgery, how many decide they don’t want the surgery after all. I understand the point that a delay in treatment is a delay in recovery but I see lots on injured workers who shouldn’t have had surgery and who get worse for having had it.

    1. Steve – great questions all. I dimly recall some research re missed surgeries that were not rescheduled. If anyone has info, please post here. I’ll see what I can find.

      be well – Joe

  2. These types of issues really increase the need for case management also! It will be important for employers, TPA’s and insurance companies to find a vendor they work well with that will keep all lines of communication open and do all they can to keep the files moving forward.

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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