B.C. hospital turns to restaurant ‘pagers’ to streamline surgeries amid COVID-19

A Vancouver hospital has turned to the restaurant industry for an innovative — and inexpensive — way to help ramp up surgeries and begin clearing the backlog caused by COVID-19.

An estimated 30,000 scheduled surgeries were cancelled in B.C. to free up beds for possible coronavirus patients.

When surgeries resumed in May, the province said it wanted to get operating rooms back up to full capacity, and beyond, as soon as possible.

Read more: B.C. announces plans to re-schedule 30,000 surgeries that were cancelled due to COVID-19

But how to accommodate more patients than normal, while still observing physical distancing?

At Mount St. Joseph’s hospital, the answer was restaurant-style “pagers” handed to surgery patients when they check in.

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Latest COVID-19 numbers for B.C. and update on resumption of elective surgeries

“Once COVID started obviously we had to respect social distancing, so we’ve had to re-do how we manage the flow of the surgical patients,” said Kirsty Carpenter, patient care manager in the ophthalmology department.

“It’s a similar system to what you’d see in a restaurant where you’d be waiting for a table and being paged when the table’s ready.”

Read more: B.C. announces plans to re-schedule 30,000 surgeries that were cancelled due to COVID-19

Carpenter said the unit had originally considered a system that would send mobile text alerts — but scrapped it, given that the bulk of their patients are either blind or elderly.

Then Carpenter had the pager idea and looked on Amazon — where she found a full set of the devices selling for $289.

Patients are invited to wait in their vehicle or on benches and chairs distributed outdoors.

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The devices are now in use in the ophthalmology and daycare surgery units, as well as the emergency department.

Mount St. Joseph ophthalmologist Martin McCarthy said under normal circumstances, the high-volume unit performs 60 cataract surgeries a day, with three surgeons doing 20 procedures each.

“It used to be the waiting room was just jammed,” he said.

Read more: Risk of never fully recovering after coronavirus ‘very real,’ scientists say

“I actually hope we continue with this after the pandemic, because it’s so much calmer in here.”

McCarthy said when surgeries resumed, the unit gradually ramped up procedures, starting at 15 per day, then 30 and now back to normal.

The hospital is also adding one Saturday to the surgery schedule every month as well, to help chip away at the backlog.

On Thursday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said more than 21,000 scheduled surgeries had been performed since May 18.

In each of the last two weeks, the province has performed 300 to 400 more procedures than the historical average of 6,000 total weekly surgeries.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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