Q&A: What Exactly is “Elective Surgery”?

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Michael Rosenberg, MD, FACS

Q: What does “elective” surgery mean?

A: This term is often misunderstood to mean surgery you “elect,” or choose, to have; meaning it’s relatively minor. This is not the case. Broadly speaking, elective surgery is any surgery that’s scheduled. All elective surgery needs to be done; the issue is how soon? That’s why elective surgery is categorized by tiers (levels) of urgency.  The higher the number, the more urgent.

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Tier 4 is emergency surgery that must be performed immediately or the patient will lose life or limb.  For example, if someone has colon cancer, and the cancer is completely obstructing their intestines, the patient could die if surgery isn’t performed within 12 to 24 hours.

Tier 3 surgery is also urgent, time-sensitive surgery, but can wait two to four weeks without harm to the patient.  That includes some cancer surgeries. Using our example from Tier 4, if the patient’s colon cancer is only partially blocking the intestines, or not blocking them, surgery would be categorized as Tier 3, meaning it’s urgent, but can wait two to four weeks.

Tier 2 surgery needs to be done, but can wait three months without causing undue harm to the patient. Let’s say someone has spinal cord compression and needs back surgery. If the compression is causing pain that can’t be controlled with medicine, or is causing symptoms because of the nerves it’s compressing, such as numbness in the feet – this surgery is Tier 3. But if the person’s pain can be controlled by medication, and their main complaint is not being able to engage in normal activities, this surgery is Tier 2. Other examples of Tier 2 surgeries are hip replacement and cataract surgery.

Tier 1 surgeries also need to be performed but can wait six months or more without harm to the patient.

Q: Am I totally safe coming in for elective surgery at Northern Westchester Hospital?

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A: We’ve been doing non-emergency surgeries since April 27 and the processes we’ve put in place have kept our patients completely safe and healthy before, during and after their surgical experience.

Our multi-layered, advanced safety processes make coming to Northern Westchester Hospital today for surgery just as safe as it was before the pandemic started. That being the case, and considering the fact that your elective procedure needs to be done, it is to your advantage to come now. Your condition could worsen if you wait. Now is the time to have a necessary procedure.

Michael Rosenberg, MD, FACS
Chief of Plastic Surgery
Vice-President of Surgical Services
Associate Medical Director
Northern Westchester Hospital

Read Past Topics from Dr. Rosenberg
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Breast Reconstruction Following a Lumpectomy
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This content is made possible by our partner. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the attitude, views, or opinions of the Westchester Magazine editorial staff.

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