Biggest Concerns for Young Spine Surgeons: 3 Experts Discuss

Laura Dyrda -   Print  | Email
Three experts discuss their biggest concerns for young spine surgeons.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: How can spine surgeons most meaningfully contribute to spine research?

Please send responses to Laura Miller at by Thursday, Dec. 12, at 5 p.m. CST.

Q: What is your biggest concern for young spine surgeons headed into practice over the next five years?

Jeffrey Wang, MD, UCLA Spine Center:
I think the landscape is changing and although we train our physicians and surgeons to diagnose and treat their patients, insurance companies are becoming more and more dictatorial in what can and cannot be done to treat our patients. Adapting to these strict requirements, especially those who are trying to limit healthcare, and then taking proper care of our patients, is going to be tricky. I find it more and more frustrating in trying to order appropriate tests for proper treatment of my patients, but running into obstructions by the payors who are trying to limit what we do.

Stephen Tolhurst, MD, Texas Back Institute, Plano:
I think the biggest concern for young spine surgeons is the challenge of working hard to establish and build a new practice in a rapidly changing healthcare environment. While the hard work necessary to build a thriving practice has always been the primary concern for young surgeons, the large degree of uncertainty about how the Affordable Healthcare Act will impact our practices adds anxiety to an already stressful period. The upcoming changes are of particular concern as it will affect us early in our practices and for the duration of our careers. There are potential benefits on the horizon with increased patient access to care. However, loss of physician autonomy, increasing numbers of surgical denials by payors and declining reimbursement despite increasing administrative requirements are issues impacting our future practice environment as well as our ability to deliver appropriate and effective care for our patients.

Trent J. Northcutt, CEO, Aurora Spine:
The future of the practice of medicine is in jeopardy across the board. First and foremost, there is an impending shortage of physicians on the horizon for a rapidly growing and aging population due to the boom of birthrates between 1946 and 1964. This, combined with less students seeking a career in medicine, creates a seemingly insolvable situation for healthcare delivery — enough to keep any physician or patient awake at night.

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