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Background COVID-19 has put unprecedented pressure on healthcare systems worldwide, leading to a reduction of the available healthcare capacity. Our objective was to develop a decision model that supports prioritization of care from a utilitarian perspective, which is to minimize population health loss. Methods A cohort state-transition model was developed and applied to 43 semi-elective non-paediatric surgeries commonly performed in academic hospitals. Scenarios of delaying surgery from two weeks were compared with delaying up to one year, and no surgery at all. Model parameters were based on registries, scientific literature, and the World Health Organization global burden of disease study. For each surgery, the urgency was estimated as the average expected loss of Quality-Adjusted Life-Years (QALYs) per month. Results Given the best available evidence, the two most urgent surgeries were bypass surgery for Fontaine III/IV peripheral arterial disease (0.23 QALY loss/month, 95%-CI: 0.09-0.24) and transaortic valve implantation (0.15 QALY loss/month, 95%-CI: 0.09-0.24). The two least urgent surgeries were placing a shunt for dialysis (0.01, 95%-CI: 0.005-0.01) and thyroid carcinoma resection (0.01, 95%-CI: 0.01-0.02): these surgeries were associated with a limited amount of health lost on the waiting list. Conclusion Expected health loss due to surgical delay can be objectively calculated with our decision model based on best available evidence, which can guide prioritization of surgeries to minimize population health loss in times of scarcity. This tool should yet be placed in the context of different ethical perspectives and combined with capacity management tools to facilitate large-scale implementation.

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