Here four spine surgeons discuss what currently excites them most in the spine industry.
Ask Spine Surgeons is a weekly series of questions posed to spine surgeons around the country about clinical, business and policy issues affecting spine care. We invite all spine surgeon and specialist responses.
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Question: What are the most exciting aspects of being a spine surgeon today?
Brian R. Gantwerker, MD, The Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: I find the most stimulating aspect is certainly the continued popularity of arthroplasty. We are finding insurance companies and Medicare finally coming around to paying for this excellent choice for patients. It looks like the hard work and good data coming out is finally breaking through the din of unjustified denials.
Patrick C. Hsieh, MD, Director, Minimally Invasive Spine Program, USC Spine Center, Keck Medicine of USC, Los Angeles: One of the most exciting aspects of being a spine surgeon today is the increasing opportunity to help patients with debilitating spinal conditions and change lives. With developments of complex surgical instrumentation, complex surgical techniques and minimally invasive spine surgery in the past decade, we have a lot more tools in our arsenal than the past. We are now able to help patients with complex diseases that were once deemed non-operable.
The opportunity to help many of these patients to reverse their neurological symptoms or relieve chronic debilitating pain with modern spine surgery is extremely exciting and gratifying to me as a spine surgeon today. Certainly, the techniques and tools in spine surgery that we possess today would not be possible without research. Current research advancements in stem cell and other biological treatments in degenerative spine disease, spine tumors and spinal cord injury are promising and exciting. The development and knowledge we gain from our research in those areas will be vital in advancing our future in spine care.
Christian G. Zimmerman, MD, MBA, Saint Alphonsus Medical Group, SAHS Neuroscience Institute, Boise, Idaho: Clearly the most exciting aspect of medicine is the competition among hospitals and physicians for professional survival. Unfortunately, this form of excitement has negative connotations — the healthcare insurance system has imposed levels care of scrutiny and appeals beyond tolerance, shifting the care of the underinsured to willing providers and academic institutions. As safety becomes even more paramount in a cost-contained market, this too will effect 'for profit only' institutions in the near future.
Richard Kube, MD, Founder, CEO, Prairie Spine & Pain Institute, Peoria, Ill.: We have greater options to address the spectrum of conditions in our patients. Not long ago, laminectomies and fusions were about all you had. Now there are motion-sparing devices, minimally invasive techniques, stem cells and other biologics. Many people who were not candidates for any significant treatment now have options. The spine community is also generating increasing evidence to support what we do for our patients. Quality-adjusted life year data has been helpful in making the case for spine surgery.