Spine Education Labs Critical in Training for Cutting-Edge Procedures

Laura Dyrda -  
Spine surgery technology is currently evolving to incorporate the latest trends in minimally invasive techniques. It can be challenging for physicians to stay at the cutting-edge of these procedures while also ensuring patient safety when performing minimally invasive techniques for the first time. Spinal surgery education programs with cadaver labs are an important element in the progression of spine surgery technology.

"Right now, spine surgery is a big open operation," says Choll Kim, MD, PhD, a physician with the Spine Institute of San Diego. "The problem is, the traditional open operation really injures the muscles around the spine. With minimally invasive techniques, we are trying to perform the procedure without injuring the muscles."

Spine Surgery Cadaver Education Lab

Dr. Kim says some practicing physicians will not perform minimally invasive spine surgery because they are uncertain about their ability to complete the procedure accurately and safely. This fear leads to practicing obsolete surgery methods and ultimately increased patient discomfort.

"Minimally invasive spine surgery is not a small difference in technology; this is a major leap in being able to take care of our spine patients," says Dr. Kim. "We need to be able to provide resources for our patients and we don't want to let a lack of education prevent us from doing that."

While some physicians learn procedures by watching their mentors perform them in the lab environment, Dr. Kim says the best way to learn is by actually performing the surgery, skin-to-skin, at a cadaver lab modeled after the operating room setting.

"Physicians have this surgery with a lot of great benefits available to them but the problem is that they didn't cover it in their formal training," says Dr. Kim "At some point you need to mimic exactly what the OR situation is going to be. You need to make sure you can do the procedure from start to finish. Our education program is designed to provide the physicians with this experience."

By participating in the program, physicians gain experience and become knowledgeable about performing minimally invasive spine surgery in an operating room environment. This experience builds confidence in the surgeon which can lead to fewer complications during first surgery.

"The learning curve needs to be zero for these types of surgery. The first surgery on a patient should go well," Dr. Kim says.

San Diego's Alvarado Hospital Advanced Spine Institute

One such cadaver lab has been developed at Advanced Spine Institute & Minimally Invasive Spine Center at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, which also offers patient education courses, inpatient and outpatient programs, minimally invasive spine surgery, the SpineZone rehabilitation and private patient suites. Dr. Kim works with the hospital and provides educational training for physicians.

In the future, Dr. Kim hopes similar cadaver education labs will become available in other regions of the country to increase program accessibility to a wider number of new and practicing surgeons.

Society for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

In collaborating with the Alvarado Hospital's Advanced Spine Institute physician education program, Dr. Kim was instrumental in founding the Society for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing research programs and a curriculum for surgeons to use as a guide for case studies.

"The idea is for the Society to become a part of the education labs around the country. The labs would be vetted through the Society which would validate the regional programs as true skin-to-skin courses," says Dr. Kim. "The emphasis really is on developing the program that is designed to make sure the procedure goes well."

In the evolving field of spine surgery, Dr. Kim feels fusion procedures that allow the patient to return home the next day, will be the next big advancement.

"Shorter inpatient recovery for spinal fusion procedures is very feasible," says Dr. Kim. "But we're not quite there yet."

Learn more about the Alvarado Spine Institute.

Read more coverage about spine surgery centers:

- Rural Spine Practices Meet Recruitment Challenges by Emphasizing Decreased Competition, Small-Town Lifestyle

- Learn More About The Spine Center at the Center for Pain Management in Maryland

- Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo Named Head of the New Comprehensive Spine Institute of New Jersey

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