As spine practices head into the new year, here are four key ways surgeons can get and stay ahead of challenges.
Think strategically about partnerships: Whether it’s a private practice partnership or hospital employment, spine surgeons should walk in knowing what they want and advocating for themselves.
Hospital partnerships can be beneficial for smaller practices but surgeons should take a thorough approach.
"Before entering a hospital partnership, smaller practices should be sure that the partnership is rooted in full transparency, communication and shared values," James Chappuis, MD, of Spine Center Atlanta, said. "The basis of excellent healthcare is attentive and thorough communication. Smaller practices and hospitals should be clear in defining their roles, their expectations, and their processes to make the partnership as cohesive as possible. This also includes planning contingency strategies for emergencies, exit options and employee changes."
Invest in your staff: The quality of a spine surgeon's staff can make or break the practice.
"The best investment we have made in our practice relates to the hiring of exceptionally qualified personnel," Ali Mesiwala, MD, of DISC Sports & Spine Center in Newport Beach, Calif., said. "In this day and age, customer service is critical, and having staff understand this can make or break your practice. While there are certainly economic challenges for every practice, and the current economic environment does not shield medical providers, we have paid our employees very well and given them appropriate raises and bonuses when deserving."
Just as important as hiring is staff and physician retention — something Christopher Meyer, MD, Edina, Minn.-based Twin Cities Orthopedics' new president is thinking about.
"For the physicians, we spend a lot of time looking at metrics and looking at where we can put a body and have that person be busy from the beginning," he said. "A busy physician is typically a happy physician."
Put money in the right infrastructure: Along with staff, spine surgeon should know where to save and where to spend on tactical tools at their practices.
For Brian Gantwerker, MD, of The Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles, internet bandwidth has been one of the best investments he made.
"We recently started seeing a lot of lag at the office," he said. "I contacted my provider and they were offering faster speeds at a lower price. So we not only cut expenses but also got faster access. We are also getting new internet appliances with a faster speed that are to be installed very soon. The ones I have had before lasted me 10 years and have been rock solid, but expensive initially. I must say, paying extra for GOOD hardware initially is very worth it, and may last a decade or more if you get a good IT person and ask them for recommendations, rather than what's cheapest at Best Buy."
Chester Donnally, MD, of Dallas-based Texas Spine Consultants, said investing in people for scribes has been beneficial.
"It's definitely a big overhead cost, but it allows me more time with the patient, I am not typing at all when with the patient, and I can really focus on the exam and MRI, as opposed to charting."
Explore new technologies: Spine technologies have grown exponentially in recent years. While robots and navigation systems are popular among younger physicians, there are skills that all spine surgeons should take the time to master.
"The most important skill with robotic-assisted spine surgery is to have thorough understanding of how intraoperative computer navigation works, how to maintain navigation accuracy, and how to properly recognize and address loss of navigation accuracy," Vladimir Sinkov, MD, of Sinkov Spine, said.
Robot-assisted tools can also give complex spine surgeons an edge.
"I believe that surgeons performing complex deformity and tumor cases should be familiar with robotic-assisted spinal instrumentation," Richard Kube II, MD, of Peoria, Ill.-based Prairie Spine & Pain Institute said. "Certainly, there can be advantages in accuracy for implant placement and deformity correction."