COVID-19 Impact on Orthopedic Surgeons: Elective Procedures, Telehealth, and Income

South Med J. 2021 May;114(5):311-316. doi: 10.14423/SMJ.0000000000001249.


Objectives: The purpose of this study was to investigate the response in orthopedic surgery to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic across the United States by surveying surgeons about their care setting, timing of restrictions on elective surgery, use of telehealth, and estimated economic impact.

Methods: A survey was distributed via REDCap through state orthopedic organizations between April and July 2020. The 22-question digital survey collected information regarding restrictions on elective procedures, location of care, utilization of telehealth, and estimated reductions in annual income.

Results: In this study, 192 participants responded to the survey (average age 49.9 ± 11.0 years, 92.7% male). Responses primarily originated from Alabama (30.2%), Georgia (30.2%), and Missouri (16.1%). The remainder of the responses were grouped into the category "other." Respondents did not vary significantly by state in operative setting or income type (salary, work relative value units, or collections). Most of the participants documented elective procedure restrictions in hospital and ambulatory settings. The highest frequency of closures occurred between March 18 and 20 (47% in hospital, 51% in ambulatory). Of the participants, financial loss estimates varied across states (P = 0.005), with 50% of physicians claiming >50% losses of income in Alabama (24% Georgia, 10% Missouri, 31% other). Regarding telehealth, practices set up for these services before 2020 varied across states. None of the orthopedic practices in Alabama had telehealth before the COVID-19 pandemic (Missouri 25%, Georgia 9%, other 8%, P = 0.06); however, respondents generally were split when considering the anticipation of implementing telehealth into routine practice.

Conclusions: Most practices did implement restrictions for elective clinic visits and procedures early during the pandemic. COVID-19 ultimately will result in a large revenue loss for elective orthopedic practices. Services such as telehealth may help offset these losses and help deliver orthopedic care to patients remotely.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / trends*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services Accessibility / trends
  • Humans
  • Income / trends*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orthopedic Procedures / trends*
  • Orthopedic Surgeons / economics
  • Orthopedic Surgeons / trends*
  • Telemedicine / trends*
  • United States