Any surgery that can be delayed for at least 24 hours, but is required on medical grounds, may be regarded as elective surgery. In contrast to what its name implies, elective surgery is not cosmetic or non-essential surgery. Emergencies are regarded as those where surgical procedures are pivotal to the patient’s immediate survival.
Examples of conditions requiring emergency surgeries are car crashes, myocardial infarctions as a result of blocked coronary arteries, and certain types of poisons. In contrast, elective surgeries, although they too may become emergencies in some instances, do not pose any immediate threats to the patient’s life.
Candidates for elective surgery may be classified into three clinical categories based on urgency. Patients in category one are those with the highest priority and are considered to be ‘urgent’ cases, with hospital admission being desirable within a 30-day period. These patients are considered to have a condition that may deteriorate quickly, at which point it will become a true medical emergency.
Patients in the second category are considered to be ‘semi-urgent’, with it being desirable within a 90-day period. Semi-urgent patients may have pain, disability or dysfunction. However, it is unlikely that their condition will rapidly deteriorate to the point of becoming a real emergency. Patients in the third category are entirely ‘non-urgent’ and may wait for up to a year to be admitted.
Patients requiring elective surgery are generally placed on waiting lists, which are crucial to proper management in hospital, when it comes to triaging patients. Those who have more pressing indications or imminent severe complications are given priority over others who have less serious conditions. Waiting lists are excellent tools in that they allow hospitals and surgeons to take up patients for surgery with greater efficacy.
Moreover, they give patients an idea as to how long they may have to wait before they are treated by a surgeon, allowing them to plan their time more efficiently. Waiting times allocated to the patients on a waiting list are reliable and excellent indicators with regard to any hospital’s performance, as they allow for the measurement of the rate of turnover.
Most patients on the list eventually receive the surgical operation that they were posted for originally. There are instances, however, when patients are removed from the lists, due to a number of reasons. One such reason is that the patient may have sought and received treatment at another facility. Other reasons include the patient not needing the procedure any longer; or they may have been admitted via emergency. In still other cases, they may, unfortunately, have passed away.
Reviewed by Liji Thomas, MD