5 predictions on the future of spine surgery from Dr. Richard Wohns


Spine surgeons cannot remain stagnant. There is constant pressure to stay ahead of the curve, and to be innovative with surgical approaches and devices.

At Becker’s 16th Annual Future of Spine + The Spine, Orthopedic and Pain Management-Driven ASC Conference, June 14 to 16 in Chicago, Richard Wohns, MD, founder, president and neurosurgeon at NeoSpine in Puyallup, Wash., offered insights into what spine surgeons need to prepare for in the future.

Here are his five major trends to expect:

1. Innovations in minimally invasive surgery: “This is at the forefront in what is happening in spine and it will continue. There will be more and more minimally invasive surgical approaches, procedures, devices because minimally invasive is the future.”

“At the present time, minimally invasive is approximately 35 percent of the market in spine. However, this is going to change as we move forward. I can’t predict when we will be at 60 percent of 70 percent, but this is the future.”

2. Motion preservation vs. fusions: “Fusions will still be necessary, but next generation, motion preservation technology will be coming out. We’ve already seen a few generations in the cervical arena. We’ve only begun to see the lumbar motion preservation technology. Fusions will be in the past with motion preservation being the future.”

3. Artificial intelligence and neuronavigation: “One of the biggest aspects of the future, besides motion preservation, will be how we operate. AI and robotics are sweeping the stage of first generation devices. As we move forward into the future, the accuracy of what we do will increase with artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics. We will see more accuracy, less invasion and [repeatability].”

4. Outpatient spine centers outlasting hospitals: “It is predicted most spine surgeries will move out of the hospitals and become outpatient procedures. As you can imagine with the help of robotics, motion preservation and artificial intelligence, all of these are inherently outpatient and ambulatory surgery center procedures. More and more surgeons will be doing their procedures outpatient because they can and also because of patient popularity.”

5. The possibilities of independent spine surgeons: “[Others] have predicted hospitals will become obsolete; they will instead become a place for trauma, brain surgery and premature babies. We should now welcome the idea that hospitals are less important, as any change in the healthcare system that saves money and makes patients healthier needs to be celebrated.”

“Independence is a disappearing phenomenon. The driving focus for young residents is finding a job with financial security and job security, which is larger institutions over private practice. I think physicians over 50 years old are the likely candidates to become independent if they haven’t been in their careers.”

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