During the April 2020 peak of patient admissions to our hospital caused by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), we severely limited the number of surgical procedures performed to conserve health system resources. During this stressful time, some administrators and physicians began categorizing operations for cancer as "elective" procedures that could be postponed for months. Personally, I think the use of elective to describe cancer surgery is not optimal, even during a pandemic. In reality, the surgeries for patients with cancer were being postponed to ensure that services were available for patients with severe and critical COVID-19 disease, not because the surgeries were "elective." The health system leaders were making the rational decision to prioritize the needs of patients with COVID-19 infections over the needs of patients with cancer. However, they were using an inappropriate description of the rationale for postponing the surgery for patients with cancer—an intellectual short-cut.
This experience prompted me to explore all the medical interventions commonly described as elective. Surprisingly, among medical specialists, obstetricians excel in using the adjective elective to describe our important work. For example, in the medical record we commonly use terms such as “elective induction of labor,” “elective cesarean delivery” (CD) and “elective termination of pregnancy.” I believe it would advance our field if obstetricians stopped using the term elective to describe the important health services we provide.
Stop using the term “elective induction of labor”
Ghartey and Macones recently advocated for all obstetricians to stop using the term elective when describing induction of labor.1 The ARRIVE trial (A Randomized Trial of Induction vs Expectant Management)2 demonstrated that, among nulliparous women at 39 weeks’ gestation, induction of labor resulted in a lower CD rate than expectant management (18.6% vs 22.2%, respectively; relative risk, 0.84; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.76-0.93). These findings indicate that induction of labor is not elective because it provides a clear health benefit over the alternative of expectant management. Given current expert guidance, induction of labor prior to 39 weeks’ gestation must be based on an accepted medical indication and provide a health benefit; hence, these inductions are medically indicated. Similarly, since induction of labor at 39 weeks’ gestation also provides a clear health benefit it is also medically indicated and not “elective.” Ghartey and Macones conclude1:
"The words we choose to
describe medical interventions
matter. They send a message
to patients, physicians, nurses,
and hospital administrators.
When the term 'elective' is applied to a medical intervention,
it implies that it is not really
necessary. That is certainly not
the case when it comes to 39-
week nulliparous induction. The
ARRIVE trial provides grade A
(good and consistent) evidence
that labor induction provided
benefit with no harm to women
and their infants. These inductions are not 'elective'."
An alternative descriptor is “medically indicated” induction.
Continue to: Stop using the term “elective cesarean delivery”...