How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacted Spine Surgeons?

A recent study assessed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on spine surgeons.

Orthopedic surgeons were significantly impacted by the pandemic, and a recent analysis forecasted that surgery volume will not return to prepandemic levels for at least a year. An estimated 83.5% of all orthopaedic surgeries were delayed due to the pandemic. Of the estimated 16.5% that were permitted to go as scheduled, these were traumas, amputations, and oncological procedures; dislocations and fractures were performed if they were considered urgent cases.

However, there are less data on how the pandemic has affected subspecialties.

“Baseline burnout rates are incredibly high in [the surgeon] population, and a global pandemic may negatively compound associated consequences,” the authors of the present study wrote. “Because of the suspension of most elective surgeries worldwide and in-person clinics, many surgeons have had to rapidly adjust their practice and assist on frontline duties. Additionally, surgeons work in multidisciplinary teams; thus, elective surgery cancellations have downstream effects on various health care workers.”

Spine surgeons across the globe who are members of AO Spine and opted in to receive surveys were given a multi-dimensional survey, titled the AO Spine COVID-19 and Spine Surgeon Global Impact Survey, in which questions were stratified into the following domains: demographics, COVID-19 observations, preparedness, personal impact, patient care, and future perceptions.

Spine Surgeons Report Different Experiences, Opinions

A total of 902 spine surgeons representing 91 countries answered the survey. Most responses came from Europe (27.5%), followed by Asia (24.2%) and North America (17.3%); 14.2% of respondents were from the U.S., followed by 8.1% from China. The majority of respondents were male (93.8%), orthopedic surgeons (70.6%), aged between 35 and 44 years (38.4%), and practiced mainly in academic and/or private institutions. Nearly all respondents (92.9%) said they currently live with a spouse, children, and/or the elderly; more than a third (36.8%) reported a medical comorbidity. Fifty-seven respondents underwent viral testing, of whom nine (15.8%) tested positive for COVID-19; 7.2% said they would not tell their patients about their infection. Large variations were observed in respondents regarding whether they had been previously tested for COVID-19 and how they felt regarding the accuracy of local and/or media coverage of the pandemic, and whether the coverage was excessive, based on geographic location.

Globally, the greatest stressor was family health concerns (76.0%); anxiety levels were moderately high. Region played a large role in respondents’ answers regarding loss of income, clinical practice, and current surgical management. Half of respondents reported inadequate personal protective equipment. Most surgeons (82.3%) said they predict their clinical practice will change due to the pandemic; more than a third of clinical practice was taking place using telemedicine. Nearly all respondents were interested in online medical education (96.9%). Close to everyone (94.7%) said they are in need of formal, international COVID-19 management guidelines.

The study was published in Global Spine Journal.