COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly spread in Italy in late February 2020. Almost all surgical services have been reorganized, with the aim of maintaining an adequate therapeutic path, especially for surgical emergencies. The knowledge of how surgeons dealing with emergency surgery have reacted to the epidemic in the real life can be useful while drafting clinical recommendations.
Surgeons from multiple Italian regions were invited answering to an online survey in order to make a snapshot of their current behaviors towards COVID-19-positive patients bearing urgent surgical diseases. Questions about institutional rules and personal approach for patient treatment and to limit epidemic spread were included in a 37-item questionnaire.
Seventy-one questionnaires from institutions dealing with emergency surgery were accepted. Participating surgeons were equally subdivided from a geographical point of view, with a large proportion of public (97.2%) and non-academical (91.5%) centers. In 80.3% of cases, the hospitals treated COVID-19 patients; in 69.1% of centers, a change in work plan was necessary, and 33.8% of teams had almost a surgeon infected or in preventive quarantine. The vast majority of surgeons operated only on urgent cases (73.9%), but the number of interventions significantly dropped. Up to 40% of non-traumatic abdominal emergency cases had an unusual delayed treatment. The laparoscopic approach was used in 69.6% of interventions on COVID-19 patients. Strategies to protect health care workers against COVID-19 infection and to identify asymptomatic infected surgeons were suboptimal with respect to the WHO recommendations in 70.4% and 90.2% of centers, respectively. Advanced personal protective equipment for operating room workers was adopted for all surgeries in only 12.7% of centers.
This survey confirms that the COVID-19 outbreak is dramatically changing the practice of emergency surgery centers in Italy. Despite the reduction in number, urgent cases were on average more challenging owing to diagnostic delay. Recommendations from the International Scientific Societies are frequently not complied concerning the use of laparoscopic approach, the availability of personal protective equipment in the operating rooms, and the testing of both asymptomatic physicians and patients scheduled for surgery. A further evaluation of the short-term results of these attitudes is warranted to modulate international recommendations.