Report Investigates Spinal Fusions Performed By Twin Cities Spine Surgeons


A report published in Bloomberg Businessweek says that spine surgeons at Twin Cities Spine Center in Minneapolis are performing spinal fusions when it isn't necessary and reaping financial benefits from the procedure as well as through relationships with Medtronic, a device company that manufactures Infuse, a bone-growing material used during spinal fusions.

The number of fusions at all U.S. hospitals has doubled between 2002 and 2008 to 413,000 procedures, which generated $34 billion, according to the report. Several studies conducted and published in journals such as Spine have compared spinal fusion outcomes to patients undergoing physical therapy for a similar diagnosis. The studies show that the fusion is no better than physical therapy and can have complications while conservative treatment methods do not, according to the report.

Twin Cities Spine surgeons performed 1,100 lumbar or lower-back fusion surgeries in 2009. Many of these procedures were performed at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. Medica Health Plans, a large Minnesota insurer, reported paying a median of $26,021 for back surgeries performed by Twin Cities Spine surgeons as compared with a median range of $12,814 and $23,546 among other orthopedic and spine practices in the state, according to the report. These amounts include hospital and surgeon fees.

Six Twin Cities Spine surgeons received payments from Medtronic in royalties and consulting fees. This year, Medtronic paid $1.75 million to the six surgeons. Medtronic and three other device companies also gave a total of $100,000 to $500,000 to Twin Cities Spine for a fellowship program. Medtronic also contributed $150,000 in 2008 to a non-profit dedicated to spreading the use of minimally invasive surgical devices that is headed by one of the Twin Cities Spine surgeons.

Representatives from Twin Cities Spine maintained that practice surgeons do not receive royalties on the devices they use in surgery. Practice representatives also said that surgeons only recommend spinal fusions for patients after conservative treatment fails to alleviate pain, according to the report. A majority of the spinal fusions performed by Twin Cities Spine surgeons are successful, says the report, though the measurements for what constitutes a successful surgery are different among orthopedic industry professionals. The practice says that every patient is warned about the complications associated with spinal fusions before undergoing the procedure, according to the report.

Read full Bloomberg Businessweek coverage on Twin Cities Spine surgeons performing spinal fusions.

Read other coverage on spinal fusions:

- Study: XLIF a Safe, Cost-Effective Procedure

- Spine Surgery Comparison: Open TLIF Vs. Minimal Access TLIF

- Millennium Research Group Outlook for Spinal Fusion Market

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