CMS will recommend hospitals, doctors limit 'non-essential, elective' procedures

Editor's note: CMS released its recommendations (PDF) Wednesday night. They outline factors doctors and hospitals should consider for postponing surgeries and procedures, including patient risk factors, availability of beds, staff and PPE, and the urgency of the procedure.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will release recommendations today that call for doctors and hospitals to limit “non-essential, elective” medical and surgical procedures, including dental procedures.

The agency will release detailed recommendations today aimed at conserving supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, for healthcare personnel on the frontlines of the fight against coronavirus and protecting patients from exposure to the virus, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said during Wednesday’s update by the coronavirus task force at the White House.

RELATED: Some patients delaying procedures amid coronavirus outbreak. Analysts predict what it means for hospitals

“We believe that these recommendations will help surgeons, patients, and hospitals to prioritize what is essential while leaving the ultimate decision in the hands of state and local health officials and those clinicians who have a direct responsibility to their patients,” Verma said.

CMS urges providers to seriously consider the recommendations not only to preserve supplies of equipment, that in some places are running low, but to allow doctors and nurses to help those on the frontlines and protect patients by limiting their exposure to the virus, Verma said.

“We fully appreciate that this is going to have a major impact on the healthcare system,” she said, calling for “shared sacrifice” to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Both the American College of Surgeons and the American Dental Association were proactive in posting recommendations to limit elective procedures on their websites, she said. The American Medical Association, the country’s largest physician organization, has indicated it fully supports the recommendations, she said.

The announcement by CMS follows the call by Surgeon General Jerome Adams, a member of the coronavirus task force, that hospitals considering canceling elective procedures. Several healthcare groups called for clarification for what the government defined as “elective” surgeries.

CMS’ recommendations are expected to offer those clarifications.

Almost a quarter doctors said in a small survey last week that they are seeing patients cancel or defer procedures in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Also, a growing number of health systems around the U.S. have made announcements about plans to cancel elective procedures to make room for COVID-19 cases and preserve crucial supplies.

At the task force briefing, President Donald Trump announced he will invoke the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of vital equipment. The law allows the federal government to order American industry to produce critically needed medical equipment, as some areas of the country face shortages of coronavirus tests, hospital beds and equipment such as ventilators.

The president also moved to send two military hospital ships to areas hard-hit by the coronavirus.

The Health and Human Services Department will also issue a regulation today that will allow doctors to practice across state lines, even if they are not licensed to practice in a particular state.