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Opinion
Triage guidance for upper gastrointestinal physiology investigations during restoration of services during the COVID-19 pandemic
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  1. Catherine Sykes1,
  2. Helen Parker1,
  3. Warren Jackson2,
  4. Rami Sweis3
  1. 1Medical Physics Department, Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
  2. 2Department of GI Physiology, Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, Hull, UK
  3. 3GI Services, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rami Sweis, GI Services, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London NW1 2BU, UK; Rami.sweis{at}nhs.net

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Background

The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected capacity across the board; for gastrointestinal (GI) medicine it has had a direct impact on endoscopy and GI physiology testing. Upper GI physiology investigations are elective investigations, aimed at determining causes of symptoms in patients in whom structural causes have been excluded. These tests include oesophageal manometry and 24 hour ambulatory reflux monitoring, the results of which are subsequently used to guide patient management. International recommendations are available to address and help guide departments through some of the challenges posed by the pandemic.1 2 The Association of Gastrointestinal Physiologists (AGIP) council published guidelines regarding GI physiology service provision during the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020.3 This guidance detailed necessary requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as highlighting the need to consider workflow changes. These changes may arise both as a result of increased time needed for physiology procedures, and as a result of new pressures on endoscopy services as a whole. The guidance also highlighted the requirement for local multidisciplinary team discussions to prioritise cases on the basis of urgency and local therapeutic availability.

The following article provides a framework for triaging patients referred into upper GI physiology services using standardised decision making based on clinical need. These triaging guidelines were initially compiled by the authors and subsequently subject to review and approval by the AGIP council, an elective group comprising representatives from the Gastroenterology, Surgery, Physiology and the Healthcare Science workforces.

Triage guidelines

Table 1 proposes a triaging hierarchy for patients referred for upper GI physiology testing based on patient symptoms and clinical background (higher position indicating more urgent need). A traffic light system is used to categorise referral types according to degree of urgency, with red denoting the most urgent. Thus, patients with dysphagia are prioritised in order to reduce risk of potential nutritional and symptomatic compromise. It is recognised, however, that there are local differences with regards to availability of endoscopy and radiology and therefore timescales within which patients should be seen are likely to vary.

Table 1

Triage hierarchy for upper gastrointestinal (GI) physiology investigations after the initial COVID-19 peak. Traffic light colour scheme denotes order of clinical priority (higher position indicating higher priority). Red: patients who must be prioritised and in whom delayed investigation could have negative clinical consequences. Amber: patients who may be considered for endoscopic or surgical intervention and thus should be prioritised for physiology based on symptom severity and available capacity. Green: patients who can be delayed until routine clinical services resume

The requirements of testing prior to physiology and the specific physiological tests recommended are documented, but do not differ from standard clinical practice prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Where appropriate, alternatives to physiology are also detailed. As per the British Society of Gastroenterology guidelines, ‘recent’ endoscopy is a prerequisite to oesophageal physiology.4 In patients who do not report dysphagia, a barium oesophagogram may be considered an appropriate alternative if the capacity for X-ray services is sufficient; however, endoscopy remains the preferred option. A barium oesophagogram may also be a useful adjunct to assess the oesophagogastric junction structurally, as well as proximal oesophageal symptoms (e.g. to exclude a web, diverticulum or stricture).

Reflux testing to investigate reflux-like symptoms in isolation remains non-essential, with the exception of postbariatric surgery patients with severe regurgitation. The expectation is that triaging with regard to reflux testing (eg, off or on proton pump inhibitors) will remain in line with standard practice,4 5 but will be delayed until routine services resume. However, there are reasonable exceptions, such as those patients who require investigation for a primary motility disorder and present with a reflux component. In such cases subsequent ambulatory reflux monitoring following a manometry procedure would be a sensible approach. Such decisions will need to be made by individual departments and will adapt in line with clinical capacity and priority as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.

Summary

The world has had to accommodate new ways of working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and healthcare services are not exempt from having to adjust. Clinical departments across the board have had to adapt in order to meet clinical need in times of new constraints. Upper GI physiology investigations were largely paused during the initial COVID-19 peak but require strategies for ensuring that patients are seen with an urgency that reflects their clinical need. This document provides a triage guideline to do this, prioritising those patients who present with dysphagia and thus may be at risk of nutritional compromise. Absolute timescales whereby patients are seen will be dependent on a number of local factors, including clinical availability of staff, availability of PPE, suitable space and other interacting services including endoscopy and radiology. This document provides a hierarchical approach to the prioritisation of patients referred for upper GI physiology investigations in the post-COVID-19 era.

References

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Footnotes

  • Contributors CS and RS: concept design and preparation of the manuscript. HP and WJ: critical review and revision of the manuscript. All authors approved the final content.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval This article was reviewed and approved by the AGIP council.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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