The State of Spine Surgery Think Tank: key takeaways from 2018


The State of Spine Surgery Think Tank in Aruba is not your average spine meeting.

Founded 15 years ago as The Cabo Meeting, the event aims to provoke discussions on the biggest trends and topics in spine surgery of the day and look a decade or more into the future at the biggest business challenges, technologies and techniques emerging in the field. Rather than focusing on lectures and academic research, the event features surgeons and industry leaders presenting on topics ranging from robotics and navigation to outpatient spine surgery and bundled payments.

"We decided to have a meeting out of the country to speak freely about the topics we felt were important," said Alexander Vaccaro, MD, an event chairman. "The themes and topics of these events have migrated from biologics and implants to physician-owned hospitals and PODs. The themes at this meeting included image guidance, computer technology and robotics, stem cells, arthroplasty and innovative biologics such as surface coatings for interbody spacers. The other avenue we focused on was value-based care."

Chicago-based Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush's Frank Phillips, MD, New York City-based Hospital for Special Surgery's Surgeon-in-chief Todd Albert, MD, and Philadelphia-based Rothman Institute President Alex Vaccaro, MD, PhD, chaired this year's event, working with Los Angeles-based The Spine Institute's Hyun Bae, MD, and La Jolla, Calif.-based Scripps Clinic Medical Group Greg Mundis, MD, as directors.

"What makes this course great and has historically made it exciting to be there is the group of people involved," said Dr. Albert. "Any time you bring the right group of people into the room, including a group of leaders who are 100 percent willing to speak candidly in front of others as the top thought leaders in the field, you have great discussion. The venue and location also lends itself as a place people want to be and put their best foot forward. Every year we want to make it better."

Publisher of Becker's Healthcare Scott Becker spoke during a session titled "Business of Spine Care: Opportunities and Challenges" alongside Plano-based Texas Back Institute founder Stephen Hochschuler, MD, which was moderated by Dr. Frank Phillips.

"Drs. Phillips, Vaccaro and Albert run the most amazing spine conference every year in a fantastic location," said Mr. Becker. "The country's top spine surgeons come to this meeting and it is a wonderful conference. I was honored to speak this year at the meeting."

The Think Tank also included a Young Surgeon's Session Forum, which provided technology updates and sessions on developing new ideas and creating a work/life balance.

"Maintaining Independence as surgeons is critical to the long-term success of our subspecialty," said Dr. Mundis. "Single position spine surgeons will be a significant factor in driving spine surgery to the outpatient setting."

Outpatient spine surgery in the ASC, robotic navigation and value-based care were the big topics on the agenda.

"Robotics and navigation are still looking for their place in spine surgery," said Dr. Mundis. "We must protect our specialty by producing the highest quality science to support our mission of providing patients with the best evidence-based treatment for their spinal disorders, including both surgical and non-surgical options."

"This is one of the few meetings where I sit from beginning to end and am amazed at what we learn," said Dr. Vaccaro. "The startling thing to come out of the meeting this year [is] that doctors aren't as advanced in bundled payments and population health as they could be. Very few of the physicians in attendance participated in mature bundles. As a community, we aren't grasping the economic side of healthcare."

The event was held at The Ritz-Carlton Aruba, June 21 to 23.


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