Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the pain and suffering of chronic pain patients due to stoppage of "elective" interventional pain management and office visits across the United States. The reopening of America and restarting of interventional techniques and elective surgical procedures has started. Unfortunately, with resurgence in some states, restrictions are once again being imposed. In addition, even during the Phase II and III of reopening, chronic pain patients and interventional pain physicians have faced difficulties because of the priority selection of elective surgical procedures.Chronic pain patients require high intensity care, specifically during a pandemic such as COVID-19. Consequently, it has become necessary to provide guidance for triaging interventional pain procedures, or related elective surgery restrictions during a pandemic.
Objectives: The aim of these guidelines is to provide education and guidance for physicians, healthcare administrators, the public and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our goal is to restore the opportunity to receive appropriate care for our patients who may benefit from interventional techniques.
Methods: The American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (ASIPP) has created the COVID-19 Task Force in order to provide guidance for triaging interventional pain procedures or related elective surgery restrictions to provide appropriate access to interventional pain management (IPM) procedures in par with other elective surgical procedures. In developing the guidance, trustworthy standards and appropriate disclosures of conflicts of interest were applied with a section of a panel of experts from various regions, specialties, types of practices (private practice, community hospital and academic institutes) and groups. The literature pertaining to all aspects of COVID-19, specifically related to epidemiology, risk factors, complications, morbidity and mortality, and literature related to risk mitigation and stratification was reviewed. The evidence -- informed with the incorporation of the best available research and practice knowledge was utilized, instead of a simplified evidence-based approach. Consequently, these guidelines are considered evidence-informed with the incorporation of the best available research and practice knowledge.
Results: The Task Force defined the medical urgency of a case and developed an IPM acuity scale for elective IPM procedures with 3 tiers. These included emergent, urgent, and elective procedures. Examples of emergent and urgent procedures included new onset or exacerbation of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), acute trauma or acute exacerbation of degenerative or neurological disease resulting in impaired mobility and inability to perform activities of daily living. Examples include painful rib fractures affecting oxygenation and post-dural puncture headaches limiting the ability to sit upright, stand and walk. In addition, urgent procedures include procedures to treat any severe or debilitating disease that prevents the patient from carrying out activities of daily living. Elective procedures were considered as any condition that is stable and can be safely managed with alternatives.
Limitations: COVID-19 continues to be an ongoing pandemic. When these recommendations were developed, different stages of reopening based on geographical regulations were in process. The pandemic continues to be dynamic creating every changing evidence-based guidance. Consequently, we provided evidence-informed guidance.
Conclusion: The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges in IPM creating needless suffering for pain patients. Many IPM procedures cannot be indefinitely postponed without adverse consequences. Chronic pain exacerbations are associated with marked functional declines and risks with alternative treatment modalities. They must be treated with the concern that they deserve. Clinicians must assess patients, local healthcare resources, and weigh the risks and benefits of a procedure against the risks of suffering from disabling pain and exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
Keywords: COVID 19; COVID risk factors; Coronavirus; chronic pain; elective surgeries; immunosuppressio; interventional pain management; interventional techniques.