How spine practices can retain a competitive advantage

Alan Condon -  

Competition continues to rise among spine surgeons and practices as an increasing number of procedures move from hospitals toward the outpatient setting, where they can be performed at a lower cost. 

Three ways spine practices can remain competitive:

1. Revamp referral strategies. An increasing number of patients are using online platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and TikTok to seek out healthcare providers, which offers a significant opportunity for surgeons to expand their patient base. 

"Not only do these channels provide information and knowledge, but they also allow patients to determine if they can trust the physician," said Alok Sharan, MD, of NJ Spine and Wellness in East Brunswick, N.J. "I recently performed a telehealth visit for a patient from Northwest Washington who saw a lecture I gave on YouTube. From that, he determined that he could trust me and wanted to seek my opinion on what care path he should follow to manage his herniated disc. Increasingly, we will see more of that from patients. As a result, we are creating more robust videos, which are certainly yielding more patient referrals for us."

2. Stand out from the crowd. In an orthopedic market where consolidation is booming and many larger groups have the advantage of economies of scale, smaller independent practices strive to outperform other providers though superior care, customer service or offering something that not every surgeon does.

"For us, I do a lot of failed spinal surgery, and many of those patients will come from long distances. That's one area that keeps us competitive," said James Chappuis, MD, of Spine Center Atlanta. "I like to say that we're sort of the Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue of medical practices. By that I mean we spend time and we don't rush patients through. We try to give quality care, give patients the time they need and deserve. So especially if someone's going to be paying out of network or paying cash, they're going to get the extra time that a lot of the other practices just don't have the time to give."

3. Market your technology. Like surgeons, many patients seek out hospitals and ASCs with the latest and greatest technologies, which can be useful marketing tools. Robotics and augmented reality platforms are among the surgical technologies generating the most buzz in the industry today and are expected to play a key role in the future of spine care.

"The next generation of robots will lead to safer, more reproducible neural identification and decompression by incorporating safe zones, haptic feedback and machine vision," said Kris Radcliff, MD, of Philadelphia-based Rothman Orthopaedic Institute. "Robots have the potential to contribute to every spine surgery. Robots can also detect physical condition changes such as a loss of resistance or change in sound that are imperceptible to humans. Ultimately, robotic technology will enhance spine surgery in the same manner that machine vision and sensors contribute to self-driving vehicles."

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