From adding endoscopic techniques to increased safety protocols and the continued push toward outpatient surgery, five spine surgeons discuss their primary focus areas for 2021:
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.
Next week's question: What is the most important career-related lesson you learned in 2020?
Please send responses to Alan Condon at email@example.com by 5 p.m. CST Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Note: The following responses were lightly edited for style and clarity.
Question: What key areas will your practice be focusing on this year?
Christian DuBois, MD. Twin Cities Orthopedics (Golden Valley, Minn.): The way we practice medicine has been significantly impacted by the COVID pandemic. Most of the early part of 2021 will be spent "realigning" my practice and learning how to most efficiently handle last-minute cancellations, hospital capacity issues and personnel shortages that have plagued us for the past 11 months. Fortunately, there are some silver linings that have arisen with regard to the administration of virtual care and the movement of more procedures to the ambulatory setting. My main focus this year will be to use what we have learned in 2020 to build on things like virtual patient access (particularly for older patients or those in rural areas) and continuing to educate patients and the public of the value, safety and efficiency of procedures performed in an ASC.
Brian Gantwerker, MD. Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: For 2021, we plan on focusing on growing endoscopy options for patients. I hope to help purchase a solid endoscopy system that will allow more patients to have outpatient and effective surgery. We also focus on giving options to our out-of-state patients to have their potential surgical problem [addressed] at our practice. I would also like to continue to focus on keeping my staff and patients safe from COVID.
Richard Chua, MD. Northwest NeuroSpecialists (Tucson, Ariz.): I plan on focusing even more on new technology such as robotic-assisted spinal fusions, continuing to move patients into the outpatient setting for most routine spine surgeries including lumbar fusions, and exploring artificial intelligence, data analytics, virtual and augmented reality to see how these may be integrated into my practice. For the early part of the year, I will continue to provide telemedicine/virtual visits to patients. I also plan to participate in more scientific research related to robotics in spine surgery and provide more education to our trainees.
Christian Zimmerman, MD. Saint Alphonsus Medical Group and SAHS Neuroscience Institute (Boise, Idaho): With another year of unbeknownst changes to CMS reimbursements in 2020, challenges for older populations remain the same. A growing, higher acuity populace and COVID-19 portability issues present new layers of substantiation and process to an already taxing system. That obvious to all, the refocusing of urgent/emergent surgical caseload and prioritization will continue. Caring for Medicare patients across the board is a challenge for all specialties. Resource management is another arm of the spine surgeon's armor and being the best steward of this task is more expected than before. Perseverance and encouragement amongst all our provider brethren (as grandiose as this sounds) is real leadership and so necessary in these times of difficult healthcare delivery.
Issada Thongtrangan, MD. Microspine (Phoenix): Our focus in 2021 will be on public safety and following CDC guidelines on COVID. We encourage our staff and patients to get vaccinated. We will be focusing on outpatient spine surgery in the ASC as we should save space in the hospital for sick patients.