Doctors: Common treatments for injuries like broken bones could lag during COVID-19 response

As the weather warms up, doctors are asking people to be extra careful when out on bikes, scooters, ATVs or anything outdoors, because a trip to the hospital strains the healthcare system more and could lead to lesser treatment for patients.

While accidents happen, anything to prevent them right now will help the healthcare system, experts say. Plus, some of the standards of practice are changing right now, so even for injuries that might otherwise be a simple fix, they might now result in lifelong effects.

Dr. Andy Schmidt, chief of orthopedic surgery at Hennepin Healthcare, says even with elective surgeries like joint replacements on hold, his staff is starting to change some of the indicators for which other patients get surgeries and which can wait.

“So fractures that do pretty well without surgeries, like collar bone fractures, or fractures around the shoulder, we’re already starting to think about not operating on those because we want to get people out of the hospital and free up those beds and resources for what we see coming,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt pointed to current models, such as the one produced by the Institute of Health metrics and evaluation at the University of Washington, which predicts in Minnesota, the COVID-19 surge will come in three weeks.

By that time, Minnesotans will be spending even more time outdoors on everything from bikes to motorcycles.

Looking at the east coast, however, Schmidt says we all need to do everything we can to avoid getting hurt.

“Soon, in Minnesota, we expect orthopedic surgeons will not be able to operate on many fractures and other orthopedic injuries that just aren’t considered urgent. Surgical resources on the east coast are becoming so strained that orthopedists are only treating injuries that are life or limb threatening. And even then, there may be long delays before a surgery can be done,” Schmidt added.

He said doctors may soon be treating fractures the way they did in the 1950s as doctors could be forced to go back to using traction and putting patients on bed rest with a series of pins and weights for weeks on end.

This can result in bones not healing as perfectly as everyone would like.

At M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital, Dr. Alicia Harrison has already noticed an uptick in children getting hurt from riskier activities.

It’s partly due to nice weather, but it’s believed being cooped up and out of school is playing a role.

“My own children want to be running want to be running full speed in the yard and going down the slide standing up,” said Harrison. “I just have been more mindful of trying to reign them in a little bit. And just chose less risky behavior so they are at lower risk for sustaining some type of risk of injury that would need medical care.”

Plus, while accidents happen, any extra visits to the hospital only increase the strain on the systems and force medical personal to use protective equipment and masks, which they are trying to conserve for when the surge of COVID-19 patients really hits.

One doctor said they were relieved to hear that Lime, the e-scooter company, will not be putting them out in the Twin Cities this year.

While germs can be passed by people touching the handlebars, they also come with an increased chance of injury.