Team-Based Spine Care is the Backbone of the MedStar Spine Center

by Edward Aulisi, MD, Chairman, Neurosurgery and Medical Director, MedStar Pituitary Center
July 11, 2019

When I joined MedStar Washington Hospital Center in 2012, one of our top priorities was to develop a comprehensive spine center. We wanted to create a place that would foster a real sense of teamwork with everyone involved in spinal care. That’s because team-based treatment is the foundation of successful spinal care.

I’ve been a spine surgeon for many years, and I’ve treated countless patients for a number of conditions. But I don’t have all the answers. The MedStar Spine Center pulls together spinal experts from many fields to share our knowledge and resources. This collaboration allows us to provide better, more comprehensive care to our patients than any of us could alone.

‘One-Stop’ Spine Care

Just as mega-marts and big-box retailers are convenient for consumers because everything they need is under one roof, the MedStar Spine Center gathers a spectrum of spine care providers in one convenient location. Working with doctors from all across the spectrum of spine care lets us share our thoughts about complicated cases and opinions on what sorts of treatments would be best for particular patients.

In addition to neurosurgeons, some of the other providers available at the MedStar Spine Center include:

  • Pain management specialists
  • Physiatrists, or doctors of physical medicine and rehabilitation
  • Physical and rehabilitation therapists

We are unique among MedStar hospitals in that our orthopedists and neurosurgeons take turns being on call for spinal emergencies. Our orthopedic colleagues are trained in treating back and spine conditions, and we work together to bring our unique perspectives to the table for the good of our patients.

When we are determining whether a patient needs surgery, we consider all possible angles of treatment. As a spine surgeon, I routinely meet with patients to determine if they are good candidates for spine surgery. However, if they are not a good surgical candidate, I don’t just send them away or try to get them a referral to some other provider in a couple of months. Instead, I walk them down the hall to one of my teammates I think would be able to help, and I introduce them. Patients often are more comfortable hearing that they don’t need spine surgery directly from a spine surgeon, and they appreciate not having to wait months for a referral appointment with a brand-new doctor they have never met.

If a patient is a good candidate for spine surgery, we keep close watch on their brain and spinal cord function during their operation. This is called intraoperative monitoring, and it lets us confirm that patients are doing well during surgery and that we are precisely where we need to be with our surgical instruments. This is possible because of our use of the Airo Mobile Intraoperative CT system, exclusive to us in the Washington, D.C., area, which allows us to take high-definition computed tomography (CT) scans of the spine during surgery.

Our Spine Center providers are like athletes on an elite sports team. We support and encourage each other to perform to a higher standard. Working with the best of the best motivates us to elevate the care we provide our patients that much further.

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Solutions for Common and Complex Spinal Conditions

Across all our specialties, we see many patients for a wide range of common spine problems, such as:

  • Back or leg pain
  • Degenerative disc disease, an age-related wearing-down of the “shock absorbers” between the spinal bones (vertebrae)
  • Herniated disc, a rupture of one of the spine’s discs
  • Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord created by the vertebrae

Patients often can find relief through nonsurgical options, including physical therapy or pain management, which involves the use of medications and other treatments to relieve pain. But for complicated conditions or cases in which nonsurgical treatments haven’t worked, surgery might be necessary, such as disc fusion or disc replacement (arthroplasty) surgery.

We also care for patients who have severe conditions, such as tumors on the spine or spinal cord, as well as spine trauma. MedStar Washington Hospital Center is home to MedSTAR Trauma, a Level I trauma center, and the region’s referral center for traumatic injuries. No one else in the region can match our expertise in caring for the most challenging spine injuries and conditions.

Related reading: Quick! Name some important diseases: Is traumatic injury on the list?

Spine Care Successes

Every day, we take care of people who suffer traumatic injuries to the spine, such as gunshot wounds or high-speed car accidents. We also treat people who come in after years of suffering from spine conditions that just keep getting worse on their own. Patients come back to the office and tell us how their lives have changed after treatment. They are spending more time with their kids or their spouses, enjoying the activities they love. They feel like they have their lives back.

Having great outcomes like these draws in the top-notch doctors that we want to join us, because they want to work in an outstanding environment. Having the top doctors then continues to drive our patients’ successes. It’s a true win-win for everyone involved, and our Spine Center is the key that makes it possible.

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Category: Healthy Living     Tags: spinal conditionspinespine carespine center