A Message about COVID-19 from STS President Joseph A. Dearani, MD — March 19, 2020

A Message about COVID-19 from STS President Joseph A. Dearani, MD (March 19, 2020)

We understand that COVID-19 is a pandemic and a rapidly changing target. Every day, there is a new finding and a new plan. The world has been turned upside down and this is the most ravaging and unprecedented event that has occurred in our lifetime. It has affected virtually every country, every hospital, and every healthcare provider around the world. The safety of our patients, healthcare providers, and the community are our highest priority.

As president of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, I hope to summarize some of the issues and offer some practical guidance. Hospitals and medical centers around the country are dealing with the crisis in a variety of ways that include deferring elective visits for inpatients and outpatients, canceling elective surgery, developing protocols for space issues and medical supply shortages, activating emergency preparedness plans, making contingency plans for the lack of blood products, addressing potential deficiencies of hospital beds and ventilators, instituting travel bans, and the list goes on and on.

Much of the practice changes in guidelines are being directed by the CDC and government officials. The American College of Surgeons has recommended cancellation of elective surgery and provided a tier system for prioritization of surgical procedures. Unfortunately, elective surgery is not clearly defined and the needs and demands are different for the various surgical subspecialties. Cardiothoracic surgery is also having elective surgery canceled or postponed at many hospitals around the country. In balance, this is the right thing to do given the potential challenges with medical device availability, particularly ventilators, ECMO devices, and the like. The importance of flattening the curve cannot be overemphasized. In addition, much of the concern relates to coronavirus of hospital providers at every level—from physicians and nurses to all other healthcare providers that are the front line and an essential part of the equation for high quality multidisciplinary care. This disease is a constantly changing target that requires expert guidance, flexibility, adaptation, and immediate readiness. This is what we do as cardiothoracic surgeons every day in our practice.

The STS is facing this storm and taking a number of proactive steps to help its members deal with the COVID-19 crisis. We are creating an online community on the STS website. We will provide members with a place to share real time and relevant information, best practices, policies, institutional guidelines, and queries regarding cancellation or delay of surgical procedures, supply, space, or staffing issues—whatever the prominent issue related to COVID-19 may be. The platform to support this online community is an active forum that is online now at sts.org/covid-19. We believe that at this most critical time in our history, the evolving calamity is outpacing our institutional ability to speak authoritatively, as things keep changing. The challenges at each institution may be unique depending on their size, patient population, and geographic location. 

So, at the present time, the best role for STS is to be a pipeline of information for all of our members to share their thoughts, questions, and insights. Our STS spring and early summer educational conferences and symposiums have been canceled, so physicians and surgeons can focus on the immediate challenges facing their hospitals and communities. We will be actively monitoring the drug and medical device supply chain, especially when it comes to medicines, devices, and other technologies that are in regular use with these patients, especially when they are receiving care in cardiothoracic surgery units. We will be offering additional online CME opportunities to help you stay current with the specialty and provide information for any necessary credentialing or maintenance of certification. 

Please share with us how your hospital is dealing with this crisis. Send an email to me at jdearani@sts.org. We won't know the true impact of COVID-19 for some time. As we all continue to steer through this rapidly changing situation, please stay in touch with us about how we can help you and your patients. As we navigate through the upcoming weeks and months, we will continue to serve our surgical community, our members, and our patients by facilitating an opportunity for all of us to stay connected, to learn from one another, and to lean on each other as we tackle this historic public health crisis. Be well and stay safe.