Spine surgeons and the coronavirus: 8 things to know


Here are eight things for spine surgeons to know about the coronavirus this week.

1. Many spine surgeons have transitioned their practices to telemedicine during the coronavirus pandemic, and now perform only essential procedures. There are several considerations when performing essential surgery on a patient during the pandemic, especially if that patient is COVID-19 positive. Ratnesh Mehra, DO, outlined how his team was able to perform essential neurosurgery on a patient with coronavirus that allowed the patient to walk again.

2. Physician groups, including spine and neurosurgery groups, have furloughed staff members and cut executive pay during the pandemic as elective surgeries are canceled or postponed. The surgeons of Michigan Head and Spine Institute took a 45 percent pay cut during the transition to COVID-19 so employees could still be paid. Beacon Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine furloughed 219 employees and the CEO as well as surgeon partners announced they would go without pay during the pandemic. The practice is backed by private equity firm Revelstoke Capital Partners.

3. Spine technology and device companies are also affected by the lack of elective procedures being performed across the country. Some, like Medtronic, have transitioned to producing ventilators or masks, which are in short supply among front-line workers caring for COVID-19 patients. Stryker and Medtronic both withdrew their 2020 full year guidance projections due to COVID-19. However, Johnson & Johnson moved forward with its second investment in OrthoSpine, a medical technology startup.

4. Specialists, including orthopedic surgeons, have been called to care for patients with COVID-19 as the number of cases explodes in New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also asked specialists to come out of retirement to conduct telehealth visits or support ongoing care efforts for patients with the coronavirus.

5. Spine and neurosurgeons with ASCs are planning their next move. Many temporarily halted elective procedures during the pandemic. CMS now allows ASCs to partner with local health systems to treat overflow patients without COVID-19 or perform essential surgeries during the pandemic. ASCs are still trying to figure out the best way to move forward to assist with patient care during the pandemic.

6. Unemployment across industries has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, as companies lay off workers or close their doors due to social distancing measures and stay-in-place orders. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 43,00 healthcare jobs lost in March. According to WalletHub, the five states with the largest jobless increases due to COVID-19 are Louisiana, North Carolina, Indiana, New Hampshire and Florida.

7. Fitch reported recently that nonprofit hospitals are vulnerable to coronavirus-related market fallout, and about half of nonprofit hospitals have 10 percent to 40 percent of their portfolios invested in equities. It also reported that hospitals have seen a median loss of about 30 days of cash on hand in the past few weeks, but that isn't of "immediate concern yet" and most hospitals have cash on hand to fund about 200 days of operations.

8. President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act on March 27, providing direct financial assistance to individual Americans, small businesses and employers as well as support healthcare providers. The CARES Act provides $377 billion in small business loans as well as $500 billion in loans for distressed companies.

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