Virtual VisitsAs UAB looks to safely reinstate elective surgeries and research under Governor Kay Ivey’s Safer at Home Order, the Department of Neurosurgery reflects on the many ways it has strived to uphold UAB’s Mission Pillars. Specifically, the department adapted to continue excellent patient care, research efforts and academics during an unprecedented time in history.

Due to the need to restrict in-person outpatient visits to the most urgent cases, but motivated to maintain our desire to care for and provide knowledge to all of our patients, the Department of Neurosurgery has increasingly adopted virtual meetings and telehealth platforms as it adapted to the pandemic. Several faculty have been key in innovating safe ways to continue moving forward, and the department would like to take a moment to recognize these adaptations.

Patient Care

While elective surgery cases were canceled across the state at the recommendation of US Surgeon General Jerome Adams and other healthcare leaders, providers adjusted to seeing patients virtually and over the phone.

For patients who were seeking non-operative clinic visits, the department successfully deployed virtual visits or Telehealth appointments to promote social distancing and allow for convenient care during the pandemic. The department has named two champions of Telehealth: Professor Barton Guthrie, M.D., and Griffith Harsh Endowed Professor of Neurosurgery  Winfield Fisher III, M.D. Both Guthrie and Fisher have been instrumental in implementing Telehealth services within the department.

Generally, this Telehealth care strategy is effective for patients, but for some with pressing medical diagnoses, not being able to receive in-person care could be the difference between life and death. To ensure the best care for these at-risk patients, the department is testing patients for COVID-19 before their admission to the hospital for surgery takes place. This strategy has allowed patients to continue receiving the quality care they deserve at the high standard of UAB Neurosurgery while maintaining safety for all of our patients and staff.

Research

For many patients with neurological disorders, research and clinical trials offer hope and potential curative options. However, as UAB responded to the global pandemic with social distancing protocols, laboratories and clinical trials were not immune to adjustments. Understanding the importance of research- and specifically clinical trials- the department adapted its procedures in order to continue patient care.

Academic

As an academic medical center, training the next generation of neurosurgeons is paramount to the department’s mission. With a global pandemic affecting all aspects of healthcare, the Department of Neurosurgery and its trainees found ways to respond.

Several Department of Neurosurgery faculty and residents collaborated on a letter to the editor of Neurosurgery, sharing how COVID-19 has affected resident education. This publication outlines the emergency plan deployed by the department to aid in COVID-19 response and continue resident education, all while complying with CDC guidelines for social distancing. The authors concluded that the framework used to restructure the UAB Neurosurgery residency program during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in no faculty or residents testing positive for the virus, all while continuing resident education.

The department also employed eLearning tactics to continue advancing academia in the field of neurosurgery. For example, Charles A. and Patsy W. Collat Endowed Professor of Neurosurgery Mark Hadley, M.D., is a member of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) and has been providing online visiting professorship lectures. Similar to a “MasterClass,” Hadley has been virtually lecturing on research and academic topics.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CNS is offering members and medical students access to these “Virtual Visiting Professor” and other online learning tools to support residents and help residency training programs establish a web-based educational platform, created to mitigate necessary cancellations of didactic sessions and visiting professor experiences.


Although this period has been and continues to be difficult and uncharted, the response developed and enacted by the department and the entire UAB community was necessary to withstand a unique time. The Department of Neurosurgery Chair James Markert. M.D., MPH, is inspired by the way his team came together in a time of adversity.

“It makes me proud to see the faculty and staff collaborate, adjust and respond effectively to a very difficult situation without complaint, maintaining outstanding patient care, and all the while having keeping the safety of their patients and colleagues as their priority,” said Markert.