The first post of the series on fusion surgeries for treatment of degenerative disc disease often listed in claims for workers’ compensation benefits mentioned several criticisms against the controversial surgical procedure. According to many critics, the surgery is essentially only a lucrative procedure that is less effective or even damaging compared to physical therapy for the back injury.
Advocates for the procedure claim that it has a 90 percent success rate and argue that the patients mentioned as a basis of criticism comprise a small percentage of people for whom the surgery is ineffective.
Twin Cities Spine, a leading Minnesota medical group reported that they perform approximately 1,300 fusion spine surgeries each year, one of the highest numbers in the United States, but failed to provide scientifically validated studies on the success rates for every group of patients, specifically those with only degenerative disc disease.
The medical group lists several patient success stories as evidence of the effectiveness of the procedure, but one specific patient would not agree and nor did the Minnesota courts. The woman had three fusion procedures and was left paralyzed from the waist down after the third, $239,000 procedure. In a lawsuit brought against the hospital, the jury found that the doctor had not been negligent. According to the surgeon’s deposition, her case was a “unique set of events for which even in retrospect there is no obvious explanation that one can prove.”
The lack of scientifically proven evidence has been a familiar theme along both lines of criticism and approval of the procedure for lower back injuries, but patient reports may make those suffering from degenerative disc disease give physical therapy one more try.
Source: Bloomberg Businessweek “Doctors Getting Rich With Fusion Surgery Debunked by Studies” Peter Waldman and David Armstrong 1/5/11