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Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Neurosurgical Transfers: A Single Tertiary Center Study.



Interfacility transfers represent a large proportion of neurosurgical admissions to tertiary care centers each year. In this study, the authors examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the number of transfers, timing of transfers, demographic profile of transfer patients, and clinical outcomes including rates of surgical intervention.


A retrospective review of neurosurgical transfer patients at a single tertiary center was performed. Patients transferred from April to November 2020 (the "COVID Era") were compared with an institutional database of transfer patients collected before the COVID-19 pandemic (the "Pre-COVID Era"). During the COVID Era, both emergent and nonemergent neurosurgical services had resumed. A comparison of demographic and clinical factors between the 2 cohorts was performed.


A total of 674 patients were included in the study (331 Pre-COVID and 343 COVID-Era patients). Overall, there was no change in the average monthly number of transfers (P = 0.66) or in the catchment area of referral hospitals. However, COVID-Era patients were more likely to be uninsured (1% vs. 4%), had longer transfer times (COVID vs. Pre-COVID Era: 18 vs. 9 hours; P < 0.001), required higher rates of surgical intervention (63% vs. 50%, P = 0.001), had higher rates of spine pathology (17% vs. 10%), and less frequently were admitted to the intensive care unit (34% vs. 52%, P < 0.001). Overall, COVID-Era patients did not experience delays to surgical intervention (3.1 days vs. 3.6 days, P = 0.2). When analyzing the subgroup of COVID-Era patients, COVID infection status did not impact the time of transfer or rates of operation, although COVID-infected patients experienced a longer time to surgery after admission (14 vs. 2.9 days, P < 0.001).


The COVID-19 pandemic did not reduce the number of monthly transfers, operation rates, or catchment area for transfer patients. Transfer rates of uninsured patients increased during the COVID Era, potentially reflecting changes in access to community neurosurgery care. Shorter time to surgery seen in COVID-Era patients possibly reflects institutional policies that improved operating room efficiency to compensate for surgical backlogs. COVID status affeted time to surgery, reflecting the preoperative care that these patients require before intervention.

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