Dr. Choll Kim: Changes in spine that will stay after pandemic restrictions are lifted

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The need for physicians to rely on telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked the idea of creating a virtual center of excellence for spine surgeons around the globe.

The idea comes from Choll Kim, MD, director of the Advanced Spine & Join Institute at San Diego-based Alvarado Hospital. Here, he outlines how his practice has changed and how he expects the field to evolve over the next 12 months.

Question: How has the pandemic affected your practice and plans for the future?

Dr. Choll Kim: During the pandemic, my office stopped seeing elective patients in the office. My immediate staff of eight started working remotely, and we continued to care for patients via telemedicine. We discovered that working remotely had many advantages. Personally, I love the freedom of working in a comfortable environment, in my PJs at home. My staff felt the same. But most importantly, we found that patients, while reticent at first, also embraced telemedicine.

As an illustration, I often run late in clinic, often well past one hour. When patients can wait in the comfort of their homes, instead of a crowded waiting room, they do not seem to get upset when I run late. Everyone is less tense and I am less impatient during the encounter. I plan to continue telemedicine and work-from-home programs well after the restrictions of the pandemic are eased.

Q: What are the most exciting opportunities for you moving forward?

CK: The most exciting opportunity is to expand the geographic area of my professional life. I can now evaluate patients from all over the world. In addition, I can readily connect with my colleagues through web conferencing and webinars. For someone who does not like air travel, remote conferencing will increase these opportunities for me.

Q: What does the "new normal" look like for spine surgeons?

CK: For those of us who embrace the rapidly improving web-based remote technology, the new normal will be the ability to reach out to patients and colleagues without the limitations of distance. My goal is to create a group of spine surgeons working together to create a virtual center of excellence. The virtual center of excellence will allow like-minded surgeons from around the globe to share knowledge and insights to improve their practice.

Similarly, patients will be able to easily find and interact with such centers of excellence via telemedicine. With iterative improvements, I anticipate great advances in the field of spine surgery, especially in terms of developing and growing true centers of excellence.


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