Dr. Paul McCormick: How to maintain patient safety as spine surgery becomes more complex

Laura Dyrda -   Print  |

Paul McCormick, MD, is co-surgeon-in-chief of NewYork-Presbyterian Och Spine Hospital and co-chair of the Spine Patient Safety Summit in New York City.

Here, he discusses the biggest trends in spine patient safety and what inspires him on a daily basis.

Question: What developments are exciting for you in spine patient safety?

Dr. Paul McCormick: Spinal surgery is an exciting field because we can do so much more now. The complexity of spine surgery is rapidly expanding and advancing. Technology has moved forward with things like robotics, image-guidance and minimally invasive surgery. Even though these techniques and technologies are more complex, we can do them safely and the key to safety is communication.

Our communication at The Och Spine Hospital is optimal. We work as a team together to do things like quell pain with anesthesia doctors, monitor functions with physiologists, use the OR tools with the operating room technologists, and create an efficient workflow with nurses. So many people in the room must work together and that takes great communication, which is what we have in our ORs, and this is crucial for patient safety.

Q: What advice do you have for spine surgeons and departments to improve patient safety?

PM: There is an old saying, 'that which is measured improves.' When people know you're watching, they pay more attention. As we do more complicated things and use more technology, we have to look at results. Some patient profiles may look better than others and may work better for some techniques than others. Some technologies work better than others in certain cases. We have to constantly review the risk strategy. What will be the safest for each patient to achieve the best possible outcome?

Q: How do you ensure an environment of constant improvement?

PM: Intellect and experience play a big part in our work at The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York. Each week, the whole group reviews upcoming cases. We assess them, offer feedback, and share insight. Has the patient been evaluated correctly? Has the right surgery been selected? Then we look at the cases that were done the week prior to review what was done well, techniques and technologies that worked well, and possibly offer new ideas.

We've also standardized a lot of our care because it allows us to assess it well. We're always watching, collecting data, and reviewing on a weekly basis. By looking and assessing in a professional, open environment, it makes everyone better. And it makes for better treatment for our patients with a safer environment. It's easy to get isolated as a surgeon, but at the spine center, we have a team approach. It's nice to have someone critique and assess your patient strategy.

Q: What inspires you to make your practice better every day?

PM: Patients often use the word 'joyous' when we see them for follow-up appointments. Before seeing our team, they couldn't do everyday things like drive a car, walk their dog, or pick up their child and now they can. Being able to restore and improve the quality of life for someone is very satisfying for all of us.

The great thing about The Och Spine Hospital is that helping the spine is all we do up there. The whole team from techs to nurses to physiatrists and physical therapists, we are all focused on the spine. And we work together every day, so we all know one another, which motivates a team approach. This team is watching one another and watching the patient. We're focused on the patient’s safety and providing the best service.

More articles on spine surgery:
Dr. Kevin Foley joins 3D imaging startup: 4 things to know
How 3 surgeons connect with patients in a tech-driven world
Artificial intelligence could transform spine – where AI is now, and where it's going


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