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Necessity of Spinal Fusion Surgery Called Into Question by Florida Hospital

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Spinal Fusion Surgeries Serve as Case Study for Necessity of Surgeries

Spinal fusion surgery is a serious and end-of-the-road move for most doctors operating on patients suffering from Degenerative Disk Disease, Scoliosis or other serious problems affecting the spine.  Vertebrae in the spinal column are literally “welded” together, bypassing the need for a disk that usually sits between the vertebrae.  However, spinal fusion surgery limits flexibility because it is literally fusing together two rigid bones in an attempt to make a stronger spot in the spinal column, thereby eliminating pain from disk issues.  Although spinal fusion surgery was once avoided, recent data suggest that the surgery is now performed more often than hip replacement surgeries.  Some experts argue that this rapid rise in spinal fusion surgeries was spurred on by the desire to pad wallets, rather than assist patients in feeling and getting better.

Government Data Suggest that Spinal Fusion Surgeries Not Needed as Frequently as Performed

The rate of spinal fusion surgery has risen six-fold in the U.S. over the past twenty years, according to federal data.  Spinal fusion surgeries are very expensive, leading some experts to conclude that some doctors are performing the procedure for reasons other than the patient’s well-being in mind.  In fact, of the more than 465,000 spinal fusion surgeries performed in 2011 alone, some experts say that a significant portion of them–up to half–were performed without good reason.  However, there is also much debate over when spinal fusion surgery is warranted, with doctors disagreeing among themselves over the correct answer.

Florida Hospital Conducts Review of Own Doctor and Spinal Fusion Surgeries

One hospital in Daytona Beach, FL conducted their own review of a doctor, who by all appearances, was a star.  Dr. Frederico C. Vinas performed three or four spinal fusion surgeries on a typical weekday.  A review performed by the hospital found him to be five times as busy as other neurosurgeons, pulling in nearly $1.9 million a year for himself.  The hospital began to wonder, is all this surgery really necessary?  The hospital paid for an independent review of cases in which Vinas and two other neurosurgeons had performed spinal fusion surgery.  Of those procedures, 9 were deemed unnecessary but Vinas is still working at the hospital.  Vinas’s case raises an important issue at the crossroads of economics and patient care and how these affect doctors’ decisions.  You can read more at the Washington Post about Vinas’s case and the impact of spinal fusion surgery on patients, healthcare costs, and other related issues.

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    Many doctors today are performing unnecessary surgeries each year not just for fusion surgery but also for billing medicare for dozens of unnecessary heart procedures. Fusion surgery has been growing like wildfire despite several studies that some can be treated with good physical therapy and exercise program. My advice for patients who are considering a surgery should really ask several question on the the risks, non-surgical treatments that might be effective(physical therapy, exercise), what happens if the surgery doesn’t performed, and extensive research on the procedure and the physician recommending it.