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Treatments & Procedures

Day hospitals and elective surgery: What you need to know

Day hospitals offer specialist services that may be the option for the surgery you’ve been waiting for.

If you had surgery arranged for 2020, your plans may have been delayed due to COVID-19. Many Australians have been left with blurry vision, hobbling around on a sore knee or suffering prolonged pain since surgeries deemed non-life-threatening, such as cataracts, hip and knee replacements, endoscopies and tonsillectomies, were restricted on 26 March 2020.

The ban on elective surgery has since been progressively lifted in most areas allowing hospitals to start rescheduling surgeries as they restock personal protective equipment. To help the health system cope with an extensive backlog of procedures, day hospitals can offer a viable alternative for certain specialist services.

What are day hospitals?

Day hospitals are private, independent facilities that perform same-day procedures, including surgical, diagnostic and medical services. They have been growing in scope and popularity as people recognise their benefits and ability to adapt quickly, according to Jane Griffiths, CEO of Day Hospitals Australia, the peak industry body representing the day hospital sector.

“Basically, we see day hospitals as leading the post-recovery for elective surgery,” she says. “Being highly specialised with short length of stays, day hospitals can be very efficient and cost effective.”

What procedures do day hospitals perform?

Day hospitals deliver large volumes of ophthalmology (eye surgery, especially cataracts) and gastroenterology. As technologies develop and are adopted in the same day setting, they’re taking on many major procedures, including general surgery. Orthopaedics is growing – including new models for hip and knee replacements.

Medical services include oncology, radiotherapy and dialysis, and the biggest diagnostic specialities are endoscopy and colonoscopy.

Other specialties include pain management, dermatology, plastic or reconstructive surgery, oral surgery, ear, nose and throat conditions, hernia repair, IVF, chemotherapy and sleep disorders.

There are more than 350 day hospitals around Australia. Day Hospitals Australia has a comprehensive list of members and specialties on the Day Hospitals Australia website here or information on all day surgery providers can be found on www.healthdirect.gov.au.

How do day hospitals deliver care?

Day hospitals time the patients’ visits according to their surgery so you’re likely to present within a short time of your procedure. They generally also provide personalised continuity of care, from a preliminary phone call through to admission, procedure, discharge instructions and follow-up, contributing to a high quality of care.

What was the impact of COVID-19 on day hospitals?

Like other facilities, day hospitals had to suspend providing non-urgent procedures during the pandemic. Fortunately, they were included in the federal government’s viability guarantee – a grant to all private hospitals to keep them open and help take the pressure off public hospitals.

During the shutdown period, day hospitals provided beds, quarantine, expertise, equipment and other resources to support the health care system. Now, they are well placed to address the surgery backlog, Jane says, with an extra 30–40% capacity available.  All hospitals, including day hospitals, must observe social distancing requirements and staggered admission times to help mitigate any COVID-19 risk.

How do I know if a day hospital is right for my elective procedure?

If you're looking into having elective surgery in a day hospital, talk to your referring doctor and health fund first. Call us on 13 13 34 to find out if your chosen hospital is an HCF participating provider and to check your level of cover and any out-of-pocket expenses.

Words by Natalie Parletta
First published July 2020

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