Last year saw a record increase in medical distancing – the term for the withdrawal from check-ups, elective procedures, dental procedures, and other non-emergency treatments.
However, the pendulum is poised to swing the other way. Many medical and legal experts expect a surge of patients to soon engage with the healthcare systems in a non-emergency capacity. One possible consequence is a corresponding increase in medical malpractice claims.
The multiple causes of patient distancing in 2021
The significant decrease in non-urgent surgery and care occurred due to a variety of factors.
Fears of contracting COVID-19 played a major role. Many people chose to avoid setting foot in any type of medical facility that contained patients infected with COVID-19. Even visiting a facility without COVID-19 patients was often seen as risky, as people wanted to avoid contact with medical professionals who had potential exposure to COVID-19 elsewhere.
A lack of equipment was also a significant factor. For example, ventilators are used for every patient placed under general anesthesia. However, ventilators were prioritized for patients for severe COVID-19 infections, leaving them unavailable for many elective procedures that required anesthesia, such as many cosmetic procedures.
Finally, many states enacted bans on elective procedures, especially during the early stages of the pandemic. The bans were intended to ease the burden on healthcare professionals and facilities.
The financial dilemma faced by healthcare providers
Elective procedures are often a significant source of revenue for most hospitals and other types of healthcare facilities. However, by their very definition, elective procedures are not necessary to sustain someone’s life.
Ethically, hospitals must prioritize emergency treatments, such as COVID-19 treatments. But without the steady income derived from elective procedures, many facilities faced a reduced ability to provide services at all.
As immunizations increased and COVID-19 cases decreased, many healthcare facilities have begun outreach campaigns encouraging people to seek out check-ups, elective procedures, and other types of delayed care.
Why are medical malpractice cases expected to rise?
As patients return to the health care system, providers will likely face increased stress and expectations. They will feel pressure to perform as many elective procedures as possible, to hopefully compensate for the reduced revenue generated throughout last year.
Plus, providers will likely face more complicated cases, as patients with ongoing issues might need a more substantial level of care today due to a lack of preventative care in 2020.
As the number of people seeking procedures and consultations for conditions not related to COVID-19 continues to rise, so will the number of medical malpractice lawsuits likely filed in the future. However, with the increase in hospitalized patients due to failure to get vaccinated against Covid -19 and its Delta Variant, elective surgery is still months away.
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