The coronavirus pandemic has led to major disruption to routine hospital services globally as medical professionals focused on treating those infected and conserving resources.
As a result, patients have delayed or canceled scheduled health care visits and surgeries.
Now, in several parts of the world where the outbreak is under apparent control, there is an opportunity to resume normal health care operations. While analysts are optimistic about elective procedures returning, patients are concerned about seeking care.
In a survey of more than 1,300 patients at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, patients said their biggest fear in returning to routine health care is the risk of getting sick from other patients, according to a report published in the peer-reviewed NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery on Monday.
More than half of survey respondents admitted to delaying routine health care during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The study notes that early evidence suggests that persons under quarantine and stay-at-home restrictions are at increased risk for anxiety and depression. This mental health burden likely worsens concerns about becoming ill or hospitalized.
Respondents were cautious when considering undergoing elective procedures and surgeries, with less than 20% willing to have these procedures immediately and the majority (63% to 70%) expressing a desire to wait for at least four weeks. For serious conditions, 81% of respondents said they would seek care immediately. Nearly 10% of survey respondents plan to wait longer than six months to resume routine care for existing non-urgent conditions.
The study finds that medical centers and physicians are the key players in impressing upon patients the importance of seeking necessary health care services in a timely manner. Respondents felt the medical center and their doctor were by far the most important sources of information when considering the safety of resuming these services.
Medical device companies have been feeling the impact of the deferral of elective surgeries and other health care services.
Johnson & Johnson's Medical Devices division saw a decline in sales in the first quarter due to the deferral of medical procedures in its Surgery, Orthopaedics, Interventional Solutions and Vision businesses.
Alcon, the world leader in eye care, was forced to withdraw its 2020 financial guidance because measures mandated in most countries necessitated the temporary deferral of eye care procedures and exams.
Smith & Nephew, the global medical technology business, expects second-quarter revenue to be substantially down compared to last year. The impact has been most pronounced in its Orthopaedic Reconstruction, Sports Medicine and ENT(ear, nose and throat) businesses, driven by lower levels of elective surgery in the quarter. Meanwhile, their Advanced Wound Management and Trauma businesses have been more resilient.
Despite ongoing concern from patients, analysts are optimistic about elective procedures returning post-coronavirus.
Morgan Stanley analyst Michael K. Jungling said in a research note published June 4 on Smith & Nephew: "We expect the Ortho sector will demonstrate one of the fastest recoveries toward pre Covid-19 volumes in 2H20 and 2021 as government policies and restrictions are lifted and pent up demand is worked through."
He added, "We believe the fundamental business is less challenged compared to other sectors."
The Berenberg equity research team wrote in a note published July 9 that as lockdown restrictions have eased, first in Asia-Pacific and then Europe and North America, elective procedure volumes began to recover and did so surprisingly quickly.
Most hip and knee replacement candidates, for example, have severely restricted mobility and are often in great pain. On Smith & Nephew shares, the team said: "Having seen how quickly volumes can recover, we would regard any share price weakness as a buying opportunity."
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery is a new journal, and is separate from the New England Journal of Medicine.