Debate on Spinal Fusion Surgeries Continues

Joe Cantlupe, August 25, 2011

Spinal fusion surgeries have increased dramatically in the past decade, but questions persist about the costly technique that is often used to treat older patients with lower-back pain.

Physicians are sounding alarms over unnecessary spinal surgeries and are challenging the clinical trial process for one of the most popular spinal fusion procedures. Questions are being raised about possible conflicts and the millions of dollars spent on allegedly biased studies. It's time to address these longstanding issues.'

Are there too many spinal fusion surgeries? In discussions about spine fusion techniques for an article in this month's HealthLeaders magazine, Kamal Thapar, MD, medical director of neurosurgery and tertiary care services at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Clare, WI, was emphatic. "You can see the spine fusion rates and there is really no doubt fusion operations are being overdone," he said.

An April 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a 15-fold increase in the number of spinal fusion surgeries performed for Medicare patients between 2002 and 2007. And older patients having aching backs are increasingly getting more costly and complex spinal fusion surgeries, resulting in higher rates of life-threatening complications and increasing costs to the healthcare system, according to the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, OR.

We must determine 'where the money goes, and how it should be spent, with  improved, cost-effective patient care the goal.

Are there too many conflicting interests in clinical trials for a popular spine fusion technique? The Spine Journal, the journal of the North American Spine Society, thinks so. Last month, The Spine Journal contradicted industry-sponsored clinical research on rhBMP-2, a controversial synthetic bone growth product often used in spinal fusion surgeries.

Joe Cantlupe Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.Twitter


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