“Unnecessary” spinal surgery: A prospective 1-year study of one surgeon’s experience

“Unnecessary” spinal surgery: A prospective 1-year study of one surgeon’s experience

Nancy E Epstein, Donald C Hood

Surgical Neurology International 2011 2(1):83-83

Background : There are marked disparities in the frequency of spinal surgery performed within the United States over time, as well as across different geographic areas. One possible source of these disparities is the criteria for surgery. Methods : During a one-year period [November 2009-October 2010], the senior author, a neurosurgeon, saw 274 patients for cervical and lumbar spinal, office consultations. A patient was assigned to the “unnecessary surgery” group if they were told they needed spinal surgery by another surgeon, but exhibited pain alone without neurological deficits and without significant abnormal radiographic findings [dynamic X-rays, MR scans, and/or CT scans]. Results : Of the 274 consults, 45 patients were told they needed surgery by outside surgeons, although their neurological and radiographic findings were not abnormal. An additional 2 patients were told they needed lumbar operations, when in fact the findings indicated a cervical operation was necessary. These 47 patients included 21 [23.1%] of 91 patients with cervical complaints, and 26 [14.2%] of 183 patients with lumbar complaints. The 21 planned cervical operations included 1-4 level anterior diskectomy/fusion [18 patients], laminectomies/fusions [2 patients], and a posterior cervical diskectomy [1 patient]. The 26 planned lumbar operations involved single/multilevel posterior lumbar interbody fusions: 1-level [13 patients], 2-levels [7 patients], 3-levels [3 patients], 4-levels [2 patients], and 5-levels [1 patient]. In 29 patients there were one or more overlapping comorbidities. Conclusions : During a one-year period, 47 [17.2%] of 274 spinal consultations seen by a single neurosurgeon were scheduled for “unnecessary surgery”.

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