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Coming out of lockdown safely – A view from Italy

How our lives have changed. Over two months ago we published a popular blog on the effect of COVID-19 on our surgical practice (https://www.bjuinternational.com/bjui-blog/covid-19-and-urology/). In many ways it informed us as to what to do during challenging times to keep our patients safe.

As we gradually take careful steps out of lockdown, our minds are focused on the most important of all words – SAFETY. 

While every nation will have differences and nuances, the principles of learning from each other, remain the same as they did when lockdowns started.

I am not surprised by new and ever changing information about the disease almost every day and see international collaboration as a powerful and positive tool in this situation.

With this in mind I requested our friends from Italy, China, Germany and New Zealand for their own perspectives.

Here are their thoughts for your reading pleasure.

Please feel free to insert your comments under the blog and share on social media.

Yours in friendship,
Prokar Dasgupta
Editor in Chief, BJUI

I am grateful to BJU International for having had the opportunity, around 2 months ago, to share my perspective on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on urological practice at Careggi University Hospital in Florence, Italy. I hope that information, coming from an Italian Centre that had to timely re-organize its logistics and surgical schedule in light of the rapid spread of the epidemic across the Country, might have provided some insights for urologists in the UK and worldwide to adapt their own activity during the acute phase of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Herein I am honored to share with you my perspective on how we may safely come out of lockdown, and on what we may learn as a Community from the COVID-19 pandemic to optimize the future organization of urological services. 

First of all, I entirely endorse Prof. Dasgupta’s view that, while the way Urology Centres around the world are coping with the challenges raised by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the way they are trying to rebuild new “standards” during the “second phase” of the emergency, will certainly vary within Countries, Regions and Hospitals, we as urologists should be open-minded and strive to share and learn as much as possible from each other. As such, in the highly complex scenario we are all living in, every perspective and viewpoint should be leveraged to set new tiles in the “mosaic” of evidence on Urology practice in the post-COVID era.

The status of the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy has significantly changed through the last two months. As of 15th March 2020, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases in Italy was 24 747, with 1809 deaths. As of 14th May 2020, these numbers were 223 096 and 31 368, respectively (making Italy the fifth Country in the world with the higher number of infections, https://lab24.ilsole24ore.com/coronavirus/).

Fortunately, the measures undertaken by the Italian Government so far, including the lockdown, have led to a drastic reduction in the number of daily infections and deaths due to COVID-19, with a progressive parallel decrease in the burden of severely ill patients admitted in ICUs.

However, there is no doubt that this unprecedented pandemic has had a dramatic impact on Italy from all possible standpoints, including the healthcare system. In particular, urology practice has been truly revolutionized during the past two months. Indeed, not only virtually all Centres worldwide have been forced to follow strict schemes for the triage of urological procedures that should have been prioritized in light of the scarcity of resources [1-3], but also Urology training programs have suffered a significant slowdown with potential meaningful consequences on residents’ learning curve [4,5]. As such, while we are now facing the new challenge of dealing with the “adaptation” and forthcoming “chronic” phases of the pandemic (during which all urological services will be progressively reopened to patients) we should keep the focus on preventing nosocomial infection and on cost-effective use of available resources.

In this scenario, the Department of Urology of Careggi University Hospital, directed by Prof. Carini and Prof. Serni, located in Tuscany – one of the five Italian Regions that have been hit most by COVID-19 – has already planned a series of measures aiming to safely restart all Urology services in the coming weeks, ensuring patients and healthcare workers’ safety.

  • First, since late March, all patients scheduled for urological procedures (as well as patients undergoing minor surgeries in the outpatient setting, ESWL and prostatic biopsies) had to be tested for Sars-CoV-2 infection (through nasopharyngeal swaps) 48 hours before surgery. Patients who resulted positive for COVID-19 were recommended to remain in quarantine until two consecutive nasopharyngeal swaps resulted negative for the infection. Then, they could have been rescheduled for surgery. In addition, starting from May 1st 2020, all patients undergoing surgery were tested for Sars-CoV-2 infection through nasopharyngeal swaps 24-48 hours before discharge from the Hospital. Of note, patients’ relatives were not allowed to enter the Department during the whole hospitalization period; as such, the news regarding both the intervention and the postoperative course were communicated by the urologists in charge of the inpatient ward by telephone.
  • Second, beyond appropriate use of all PPE, all healthcare workers in our Department, including nurses, doctors and administrative staff, underwent serology testing (IgM, IgG) for Sars-CoV-2 infection during the first weeks of April. Those who resulted positive according to the serology underwent further testing with two consecutive nasopharyngeal swaps; if positive, they were recommended to remain in quarantine until two consecutive nasopharyngeal swaps resulted negative for the infection.
  • Regarding the Urology operating rooms, we are currently using 50% of them (two out of four) in the main Hospital pavilion, prioritizing major uro-oncological surgery (open and minimally-invasive procedures for prostate, urothelial, and kidney cancer), as well as surgery for penile and testicular cancer. Most endoscopic surgeries for bladder cancer (TURBs) were redeployed in a different Hospital pavilion (in one dedicated operating theater, active four days a week). Overall, the surgical activity of our Urology Department is currently reduced by 20-25% as compared to a “standard” period. Fortunately, we are not facing major concerns regarding the availability of ICU beds for urological patients at our Hospital.

While in the very first weeks after the spread of the epidemic, only high-priority major uro-oncological surgeries (i.e. radical cystectomy, radical prostatectomy for locally-advanced diseases, nephrectomy for cT2+ cancers, radical nephroureterectomy for high-risk upper tract urothelial carcinoma) were performed – accounting for approximately one third of all major cancer surgeries at our Centre based on a recently published study by our group [6]) – later on we progressively included in the surgical schedule also lower-priority interventions (i.e. radical prostatectomy for intermediate-risk prostate cancer, radical/partial nephrectomy for cT1b tumors, etc.).

  • Similarly, we progressively reintroduced into the surgical schedules also elective interventions for benign urologic conditions, prioritizing those patients who were symptomatic and/or at higher risk of adverse clinical outcomes. It is important to highlight that the management of the surgical waiting list during the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and the planning of the weekly surgical schedule was performed according to a careful day-by-day evaluation of the available resources in the Hospitals’ ICUs, as well as the number of available theaters for urological procedures.
  • Importantly, we did not record any case of COVID-19 after elective or urgent urological procedure during the past two months (including after minimally-invasive surgery, the safety of which has been object of great debate within the Urology Community [7]).
  • Regarding urological emergencies, patients who were admitted to our Urology Unit from the Accident & Emergency Department had to be tested for Sars-CoV-2 infection (through nasopharyngeal swaps) before admission. If needed, surgery for urological emergencies was performed in a dedicated operating theater in the main Urology pavilion.
  • The kidney transplantation program from deceased donors (both donors after brain death [DBD] and donors after circulatory death [DCD]) continued without major changes at our Unit, thanks to a timely and effective reorganization of all activites related to organ procurement by the Tuscany Transplant Authority, as well as a series of logistical and clinical measures implemented early after the spread of the epidemic to prevent transmission of the disease to KT recipients. On the contrary, kidney transplantation from living donors was (and is still) suspended since the end of February 2020.
  • Most urological procedures in the outpatient setting (ESWL, minor surgeries, prostatic biopsies) were canceled during the first weeks of the COVID-19 epidemic, being the only exception cystoscopies for suspected bladder cancer. Thereafter, they were progressively re-started (especially during the last 2 weeks), provided that patients had been tested negative for Sars-CoV-2 infection and anyway after a comprehensive triage by telephone outlining the priority of such procedure.
  • Finally, while during the “acute phase” of the pandemic the vast majority of urological consultations in the outpatient setting were canceled (and replaced by telemedicine strategies, except for those visits deemed urgent by urological staff after a careful screening by telephone interview and those for medications after elective surgery). In the coming weeks most of them will be re-started, provided adequate logistics (i.e. distancing between patients and appropriate time schedules) to ensure maximal safety for both patients and healthcare workers.

Overall, the “big picture” delineated by all these facts and figures highlights that our Unit, as in many other Departments in Italy, has already started the process of rebuilding the foundations of a new “routine” urological practice, adapting (and eventually overcoming) to the challenges met during the first acute phase of the COVID-19 emergency.

Nonetheless, my global perspective is that urologists should remain vigilant and resilient, keeping the focus on ensuring safety and cost-effective use of resources. This is important, as the COVID-19 epidemic could potentially flare-up in the near future if all safety measures recommended by Hospitals and the Government were not strictly followed by the population.

Moreover, I believe this unprecedented emergency scenario, which has profoundly revolutionized our healthcare system as well as our way of thinking and behaving, should be leveraged to understand which steps should be prioritized to move Urology forward from both clinical, logistical, educational and scientific perspectives.

In this view, the lessons we can learn as a Community from this pandemic for the future include:  

– the need for appropriate (evidence-based) selection of candidates for urological procedures, taking into account also patients’ values and expectations;

– careful prioritization of surgeries, based on the potential impact of delay on important patient outcomes [8];

– rational use of all available treatment modalities for urological cancers (including active surveillance), strengthening the value of team-work and developing a truly multidisciplinary spirit;

– refinement of surgical informed consents, tailoring them to such emergency scenarios [9];

– increased use of virtual Urology learning programs for education of residents [10];

– implementation of teleproctoring and telementoring technologies into everyday surgical practice [11];

– inclusion of telemedicine into routine pathways of care for urological patients [11].

By doing so, we may be able not only to be more prepared for similar future emergency scenarios, but also to take significant steps toward improvement of Urology as a specialty, as well as ourselves as individuals.

Riccardo Campi, MD

– Resident in Urology, Dept. of Urology, Careggi University Hospital, Florence (Italy)
– Ph.D. student, Doctoral Program in Clinical Sciences, Dept. of Experimental and Clinical Medicine, University of Florence, Florence (Italy)
– Member of the EAU Young Academic Urologists – Renal Cancer Working Group
– Associate Member of the EAU Section of Oncological Urology
– Twitter: @Ric_Campi

References

[1] Stensland KD, et al. Considerations in the Triage of Urologic Surgeries During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Eur Urol. 2020 doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2020.03.027.

[2] Ribal MJ, et al. EAU Guidelines Office Rapid Reaction Group: An organisation-wide collaborative effort to adapt the EAU guidelines recommendations to the COVID-19 era. Eur Urol 2020 (In Press); available at: https://www.europeanurology.com/covid-19-resourceEAU

[3] Ahmed K, et al. Global challenges to urology practice during COVID‐19 pandemic. BJU Int 2020. In Press. https://doi.org/10.1111/bju.15082

[4] Amparore D, et al. Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on urology residency training in Italy. Minerva Urol Nefrol. 2020. doi: 10.23736/S0393-2249.20.03868-0

[5] Porpiglia F, et al. Slowdown of urology residents’ learning curve during the COVID-19 emergency. BJU Int. 2020 [Epub ahead of print] doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/bju.15076.

[6] Campi R, et al. Assessing the Burden of Nondeferrable Major Uro-oncologic Surgery to Guide Prioritisation Strategies During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Insights from Three Italian High-volume Referral Centres. Eur Urol. 2020 [Epub ahead of print] doi:10.1016/j.eururo.2020.03.054

[7] Novara G, et al. Risk of SARS-CoV-2 Diffusion when Performing Minimally Invasive Surgery During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Eur Urol Apr 2020;0(0). Available at: https://www.europeanurology.com/article/S0302-2838(20)30247-5/abstract

[8] Wallis CJD, et al. Risks from Deferring Treatment for Genitourinary Cancers: A Collaborative Review to Aid Triage and Management During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Eur Urol 2020. In Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eururo.2020.04.063

[9] Bryan AF, et al. Unknown unknowns: Surgical consent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Annals of Surgery 2020. In Press. https://journals.lww.com/annalsofsurgery/Documents/Unknown%20unknowns%20.pdf

[10] Claps F, et al. Smart Learning for Urology Residents during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond: Insights from a Nationwide Survey in Italy. Minerva Urol Nefrol 2020. In Press.

[11] Karim JS, et al. Bolstering the surgical response to COVID‐19: how virtual technology will save lives and safeguard surgical practice. BJU Int 2020. In Press. https://doi.org/10.1111/bju.15080

[12] Connor MJ, et al. COVID‐19 pandemic – is virtual urology clinic the answer to keeping the cancer pathway moving? BJU Int 2020. In Press. https://doi.org/10.1111/bju.15061

 

Podcast: Covid-19: the situation in Italy

Dr Riccardo Campi is a resident in Urology and PhD student at the Department of Urology and Renal Transplantation, Careggi University Hospital in Florence, Italy

More podcasts

BJUI Podcasts are available on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/bju-international/id1309570262

Article of the Week: Recourse to RP and associated short-term outcomes in Italy

Every Week the Editor-in-Chief selects an Article of the Week from the current issue of BJUI. The abstract is reproduced below and you can click on the button to read the full article, which is freely available to all readers for at least 30 days from the time of this post.

In addition to the article itself, there is an accompanying editorial written by a prominent member of the urological community. This blog is intended to provoke comment and discussion and we invite you to use the comment tools at the bottom of each post to join the conversation.

Finally, the third post under the Article of the Week heading on the homepage will consist of additional material or media. This week we feature a video from Mr. Julian Hanske, discussing his editorial. 

If you only have time to read one article this week, it should be this one.

Recourse to radical prostatectomy and associated short-term outcomes in Italy: a country-wide study over the last decade

Giacomo Novara, Vincenzo Ficarra*, Filiberto Zattoni and Ugo Fedeli

 

Department of Surgery, Oncology, and Gastroenterology, Urology Clinic, University of Padova, Padova, *Department of Experimental and Clinical Medical Sciences, Urologic Clinic, University of Udine, Udine, and †Epidemiological Department, Veneto Region, Italy

 

Read the full article

OBJECTIVE

To estimate time trends in the recourse to radical prostatectomy (RP) and associated short-term outcomes after RP in Italy, as population-based data on RP adoption and outcomes are available mainly from Northern America and Northern Europe.

PATIENTS AND METHODS

All RPs for prostate cancer performed between 2001 and 2010 were extracted from the Italian national archive of hospital discharge records. Age-specific and age-standardised RP rates were computed. The effect of procedural volume on in-hospital mortality, complications, and length of stay (LOS) was estimated by multilevel regression models.

RESULTS

In all, 144 432 RPs were analysed. Country-wide RP rates increased between 2001 and 2004, and thereafter remained stable, with large differences between geographical areas. The mean hospital volume increased in the first study years, without centralisation but due to increasing RP numbers at the population level. The median LOS declined from 10 to 8 days over the study period (mean from 11.7 to 9.2 days). In-hospital mortality declined from 0.16% in 2001 to 0.07% in 2010. In-hospital mortality, LOS, and the prevalence of complications increased with age, and decreased with year of surgery. Compared with very low-volume hospitals, procedures performed in high-volume hospitals were associated with decreased in-hospital mortality, in-hospital complications, and LOS.

CONCLUSIONS

The study adds evidence on rapidly changing trends in RP rates in Italy, on improving in-hospital outcomes, and on their association with procedural volume.

Read more articles of the week

Editorial: How Can We Improve Surgical Outcomes?

How to improve surgical outcomes for all is a long-standing health policy/services research question. There are generally two perspectives to the debate. One reasonable approach would be to regionalise, or centralise, the performance of a procedure, in this case radical prostatectomy (RP), to ‘specialised’ surgeons or institutions. Data from the USA show that regionalisation of prostate cancer care initially occurred in the late 1990s and even further more recently after the introduction of robotic surgery. The improvement of surgical outcomes after RP in the USA has been partially attributed to such phenomena [1]. Conversely, it may be impossible to centralise a common procedure, such as RP, to a small number of hospitals, concerns that were raised in an review on improving surgical care by Hollenbeck et al. [2]. Alternatively, large state or national quality improvement initiatives, with incremental advances in process-of-care adoption/compliance, may improve the care of prostate cancer for all. This collaborative and inclusive approach is, for example, employed by the Michigan Urological Surgery Improvement Collaborative (MUSIC). However, one has to factor in that this type of approach demands funding, collaboration and patience. Regardless, there is little doubt that both approaches, enforced by health policy or not, are needed in large and diverse countries such as the USA.

In this issue of BJU International, Novara et al. [3] examine the trends in RP utilisation within Italy. The authors have to be commended for their efforts to raise awareness of the need for concerted cancer registries and centralised treatments. They corroborated previous studies on the relationship between hospital volume and perioperative outcomes, such as in-hospital mortality, complications and length of stay [4]. They also found an improvement in perioperative outcomes over time. Although their study design may only allow us to speculate on the reasons for these improvements, they are likely to be the result of many factors, such as improved surgical technique, improved perioperative medical/anaesthetic care and regionalisation of care. For surgical technique, the only significant advance over the past decade was the introduction of robot-assisted RP. Given the late adoption of robotic surgery in Italy and the controversy about its benefits, this is unlikely to be the major driver behind the recorded trends. On perioperative medical/anaesthetic care, the past decade has seen major advances and standardisation of thromboembolic prevention, perioperative care of patients with pre-existing heart conditions and significant comorbidities. Finally, centralisation of care may have played an important role in the decreasing rates of adverse outcomes after RP. Although the authors specify that there was no policy-driven regionalisation of RP care in Italy (relative to the UK, for example), the increase in average hospital volume should translate into better outcomes, as discussed above [4]. Further regionalisation should be expected in Italy with the adoption of robotic surgery, as only a few centres have the means and logistics to support a da Vinci system [5].

Read the full article

Julian Hanske *, Christian P. Meyer†‡ and Quoc-Dien Trinh

 

*Department of Urology, Marien Hospital, Ruhr-University Bochum, Herne, Germany, Division of Urologic Surgery and Center for Surgery and Public Health, Brigham and WomenHospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA and Department of Urology, University Medical Centre HamburgEppendorf, Hamburg, Germany

 

References

 

 

2 Hollenbeck BK, Miller DC, Wei JT, Montie JE. Regionalization of care:centralizing complex surgical procedures. Nat Clin Pract Urol 2005; 2: 461

 

 

4 Trinh QD, Bjartell A, Freedland SJ et al. A systematic review of the volumeoutcome relationship for radical prostatectomy. Eur Urol 2013; 64: 78698

 

5 Makarov DV, Yu JB, Desai RA, Penson DF, Gross CP. The association between diffusion of the surgical robot and radical prostatectomy rates. Med Care 2011; 49: 3339

 

Video: How Can We Improve Surgical Outcomes?

Recourse to radical prostatectomy and associated short-term outcomes in Italy: a country-wide study over the last decade

Giacomo Novara, Vincenzo Ficarra*, Filiberto Zattoni and Ugo Fedeli

 

Department of Surgery, Oncology, and Gastroenterology, Urology Clinic, University of Padova, Padova, *Department of Experimental and Clinical Medical Sciences, Urologic Clinic, University of Udine, Udine, and †Epidemiological Department, Veneto Region, Italy

 

Read the full article

OBJECTIVE

To estimate time trends in the recourse to radical prostatectomy (RP) and associated short-term outcomes after RP in Italy, as population-based data on RP adoption and outcomes are available mainly from Northern America and Northern Europe.

PATIENTS AND METHODS

All RPs for prostate cancer performed between 2001 and 2010 were extracted from the Italian national archive of hospital discharge records. Age-specific and age-standardised RP rates were computed. The effect of procedural volume on in-hospital mortality, complications, and length of stay (LOS) was estimated by multilevel regression models.

RESULTS

In all, 144 432 RPs were analysed. Country-wide RP rates increased between 2001 and 2004, and thereafter remained stable, with large differences between geographical areas. The mean hospital volume increased in the first study years, without centralisation but due to increasing RP numbers at the population level. The median LOS declined from 10 to 8 days over the study period (mean from 11.7 to 9.2 days). In-hospital mortality declined from 0.16% in 2001 to 0.07% in 2010. In-hospital mortality, LOS, and the prevalence of complications increased with age, and decreased with year of surgery. Compared with very low-volume hospitals, procedures performed in high-volume hospitals were associated with decreased in-hospital mortality, in-hospital complications, and LOS.

CONCLUSIONS

The study adds evidence on rapidly changing trends in RP rates in Italy, on improving in-hospital outcomes, and on their association with procedural volume.

Read more articles of the week

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