Avoiding spine patient dissatisfaction: 3 surgeons discuss

Written by Anuja Vaidya | July 31, 2014 | Print  |

Three spine surgeons discuss common reason for patient dissatisfaction after spine surgery and how to prevent it.

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 advice do you have for residents looking to take up spine surgery?

Please send responses to Anuja Vaidya at avaidya@beckershealthcare.com by Wednesday, Aug. 6, at 5 p.m. CST.


Question: What are some of the biggest pitfalls to spine surgery patient satisfaction?Neel Anand


Neel Anand, MD, Clinical Professor of Surgery, Director, Spine Trauma, Cedars-Sinai Spine Center, Los Angeles: The first is perception. You can't cure anybody's back.  We aren't dealing with broken bones that can be fixed. It is a chronic degenerative process and it's like diabetes — you will have it all your life. We can control it but not cure it. We can just improve your quality of life. But patients come in thinking their backs will be fixed. So spine surgeons need to manage their expectations.


Brian GantwerkerBrian R. Gantwerker, MD, The Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: Patient satisfaction is paramount in marketing. If there were one pitfall to avoid, it would be losing touch with your referral base.


Richard A. Kube II, MD, CEO, Founder, Prairie Spine & Pain Institute, Peoria, Ill.: There are many reasons you can have an unhappy patient. At the heart of this issue lies the management of expectations. We know we will have successes and failures in the clinic and in the operating room — that is inevitable. Certainly, anything we do to have the ratio favor success helps, but even greater dissatisfaction comes with poor expectations.Richard Kube


Time must be spent educating the patients and discerning what they believe their possible risks and benefits are. One must communicate such that the physician and the patient share the same definitions of success and failure. It is incredibly disappointing to perform what you believe is a successful surgery only to have the patient unhappy with the outcome. With proper expectations, even a less-than-great outcome does not necessarily generate a dissatisfied patient. Expectations can turn wins into losses and vice versa.


Also, the physician is not the only one who can help manage the expectations. Staff can bear some of this responsibility as well, but just as with any other staffing issue, proper training must be done so that they are helping and not hurting the practice.

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