Article Text

Emergency general surgery utilization and disparities during COVID-19: an interrupted time-series analysis


Objective We aimed to compare general surgery emergency (GSE) volume, demographics and disease severity before and during COVID-19.

Background Presentations to the emergency department (ED) for GSEs fell during the early COVID-19 pandemic. Barriers to accessing care may be heightened, especially for vulnerable populations, and patients delaying care raises public health concerns.

Methods We included adult patients with ED presentations for potential GSEs at a single quaternary-care hospital from January 2018 to August 2020. To compare GSE volumes in total and by subgroup, an interrupted time-series analysis was performed using the March shelter-in-place order as the start of the COVID-19 period. Bivariate analysis was used to compare demographics and disease severity.

Results 3255 patients (28/week) presented with potential GSEs before COVID-19, while 546 (23/week) presented during COVID-19. When shelter-in-place started, presentations fell by 8.7/week (31%) from the previous week (p<0.001), driven by decreases in peritonitis (β=−2.76, p=0.017) and gallbladder disease (β=−2.91, p=0.016). During COVID-19, patients were younger (54 vs 57, p=0.001), more often privately insured (44% vs 38%, p=0.044), and fewer required interpreters (12% vs 15%, p<0.001). Fewer patients presented with sepsis during the pandemic (15% vs 20%, p=0.009) and the average severity of illness decreased (p<0.001). Length of stay was shorter during the COVID-19 period (3.91 vs 5.50 days, p<0.001).

Conclusions GSE volumes and severity fell during the pandemic. Patients presenting during the pandemic were less likely to be elderly, publicly insured and have limited English proficiency, potentially exacerbating underlying health disparities and highlighting the need to improve care access for these patients.

Level of evidence III.

  • COVID-19
  • emergency treatment
  • emergency medical services
  • general surgery

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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