Thorough documenting of COVID-19 patient screening in Australian hospitals is urgently needed, says new study

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

New Australian research on COVID-19 screening of hospital patients during the first wave of the pandemic found that the documentation of patient screening procedures before surgery could be improved.

The COVID Screen Audit study has been published in Australian Health Review, the journal of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA). I

Research team leader Professor David Story (University of Melbourne) said the study analysed the admission records of 2,197 patients who underwent elective and non-elective surgery at two major Melbourne hospitals between 1 April and 10 May 2020.

‘Despite the national imperative to screen for COVID and communicate the results, the documenting of COVID-19 screening fell short of our proposed lower acceptable limit of 85% in almost all surgical groups’, Professor Story said.

‘We are not saying screening wasn’t done—rather that the information wasn’t readily available for clinical teams caring for some patients.

‘We would assume patients have been screened, probably several times, but we really need to know for sure. We need it in writing.

‘The percentages of surgery patients observed to have had both COVID-19 screening and temperature documented could be improved, from 72% among elective patients and 38% among non-elective patients.

‘We found that documenting screening varied markedly across surgical groups. In particular we found that non-elective surgical patients had the lowest rate of documenting and also the highest rate of COVID-19 related history and signs’, Professor Story said.

Identifying surgical patients with SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 disease is important for several reasons, including that patients with COVID-19 may have more complications and greater mortality after surgery. COVID-19 may also further increase the already increased risks for complications and mortality among non-elective patients.

Professor Story said the results of the COVID Screen Audit study were likely to apply to other Australian hospitals, and noted that both hospitals had instituted far more rigorous documenting during Victoria’s second wave of the pandemic.  

The study was funded by research grants from the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) Research Foundation and the Medibank Better Health Foundation.


The COVID Screen Audit article in Australian Health Review can be accessed here.

More information on AHHA is available at


Media enquiries: Carolyn Jones, ANZCA Media Manager, 0408 259 369.


The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services.