Problems with insurance companies are 'worsening,' per 1 surgeon

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Richard Cunningham, MD, is an orthopedic sports medicine physician and surgeon at Vail (Colo.) Summit Orthopaedics and Neurosurgery. He is a knee and shoulder orthopedic specialist and is also a team physician for U.S. Ski & Snowboard. 

He recently connected with Becker's on the impact of different ACL knee surgeries on athletes' returning to action as well as the frustrations and developing trends of orthopedics and sports medicine. 

Question: What impact does the ACL surgery that saves the ligament have on recovery times/return to play? 

Dr. Richard Cunningham: If a torn ACL can be repaired instead of reconstructed, the recovery time is significantly faster. For instance, one could be back to ski racing five months after ACL repair, whereas it could be eight to nine months after ACL reconstruction. After a successful ACL repair and rehab, the knees are just as stable as after an ACL reconstruction but with significantly less strength losses and no losses of range of motion.

Q: If you could change one thing about the orthopedics and/or sports medicine industry, what would it be? 

RC: The difficulty, time and expense a private practice like ours spends every day when dealing with health insurance companies is a significant burden. Physicians nowadays have to get almost everything we do pre-approved by insurance companies, and insurance companies are motivated by denying healthcare services and maximizing profits. This is a real struggle which is worsening and it seems unsustainable.

Q: What are some developing trends in orthopedics and/or sports medicine that you are keeping an eye on for the future? 

RC: I think the most exciting thing in orthopedic sports medicine is the hope that we might be able to repair more ACL tears in the future with the use of smaller, high strength sutures and implants as well as utilizing biologics. This would positively impact a lot of athletic patients. Otherwise, I really enjoy being a sports medicine orthopedist as our field is constantly changing, and there are always ongoing efforts to learn and improve our skills and increase what we can offer injured patients.

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