The best advice for spine surgeons with an interest in device development

Anuja Vaidya -   Print  |

Five spine surgeons discuss the intricacies of device and technique development and share advice for surgeons who want to enter the arena.

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 affect will the midterms have on the spine industry?

Please send responses to Anuja Vaidya at by Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 5 p.m. CST.

Question: What advice do you have for spine surgeons who want to get involved in device/technique development?

Christian Zimmerman, MD. Spinal Neurosurgeon at Saint Alphonsus Medical Group and SAHS Neuroscience Institute (Boise, Idaho): As the proprietor of a number of shared and singular device patents, [my] advice would be the following. Firstly, protect your ideas either through external legal counsel and obtaining provisional patent status if the idea or technique warrants it. If a company has a genuine interest in product investigation and development, being selfless will not serve the inventors/designers' best interest long term. Partnerships are by far the most cost-effective mechanisms to carry forward advanced investigation, and later, stage trial efforts which become exorbitant almost from the outset.

Secondly, find that ideal company with growth strategies and designated research capabilities to further one's interest in design and investiture. Having dealt with a number of corporate behemoths through the years, [I found it] is best worked through long-term relationships developed over time. Trusting them and them reciprocating is paramount to success.

Brian R. Gantwerker, MD. Founder of the Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: I encourage you to get involved in local investment clubs and seek out opportunities in your field that you understand. Stay abreast of developments in the news and in legislation when it comes to changes in healthcare. There may be novel possibilities that present themselves in the coming changes. One example is the opiate crisis. Alternative therapies such as intrathecal pain pumps and spinal cord stimulators will become increasingly important.

Vladimir Sinkov, MD. Spine Surgeon at New Hampshire Orthopaedic Center (Nashua): While working on new technology or procedures alone may be very rewarding, it is also extremely time consuming and expensive. The easiest way to start is to partner with a device company that matches your interests. The more experience a surgeon has with spine surgery in general, and with the new techniques and devices in particular, the more effective he or she would be while developing further innovations.

Before signing any contracts, read them carefully and if needed consult with an attorney or a colleague who already has experience with working with industry. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to stay compliant with regulations and to avoid significant conflicts of interest.

Payam Farjoodi, MD. Orthopedic Spine Surgeon at Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center (Fountain Valley, Calif.): It is important to know and understand the company you will be working with. Speak to others who have worked on devices with that company in the past, and I recommend having an attorney review the contract so that you are not surprised by anything in it. Ask for expectations from you as a designer before starting, and make sure that you have an idea of the timeline for the project.

Rob D. Dickerman, DO, PhD. Director of Neurosurgery at Presbyterian Hospital of Plano (Texas) and Director of Spine Surgery at Medical Center Frisco (Texas): Recommend doing your research and working with reputable companies. Work with companies you truly support and who support you. Employing the use of financial advisors or other management companies can help navigate this field in order to stay on the medical development side.

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