A Retrospective Analysis of Surgical Acuity & Procedure Volume Before & During the COVID-19 Pandemic

J Surg Res. 2024 Apr:296:696-703. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2023.11.062. Epub 2024 Feb 15.


Introduction: In March 2020, the American College of Surgeons recommended postponing elective procedures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We used Medicare claims to analyze changes in surgical and interventional procedure volumes from 2016 to 2021.

Methods: We studied 37 common surgical and interventional procedures using 5% Medicare claims files from January 1, 2016, through December 31, 2021. Procedures were classified according to American College of Surgeons guidelines as low, intermediate, or high acuity, and counts were analyzed per calendar year quarter (Q1-Q4), with stratification by sex and race/ethnicity.

Results: We observed 1,840,577 procedures and identified two periods of marked decline. In Q2 2020, overall procedure counts decreased by 32.2%, with larger declines in low (41.1%) and intermediate (30.8%) acuity procedures. High acuity procedures declined the least (18.2%). Overall volumes increased afterward but never returned to baseline. Another marked decline occurred in Q4 2021, with all acuity levels having declined to a similar extent (40.1%, 44.2%, and 46.9% for low, intermediate, and high acuity, respectively). High and intermediate acuity procedures declined more in Q4 2021 than Q2 2020 (P = 0.002). Similar patterns were observed across sex and race/ethnicity strata.

Conclusions: Two major procedural volume declines occurred between 2020 and 2022 during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. High acuity (life or limb threatening) procedures were least affected in the first decline (Q2 2020) but not spared in second decline (Q4 2021). Future efforts should prioritize preserving high-acuity access during times of stress.

Keywords: Covid-19; Health systems; Surgical access.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Pandemics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States / epidemiology