Is Laser Spine Surgery bogus?

Common misnomers and misconceptions peddled by Laser Spine Surgeons in their efforts to procure business.

In a 2009 article published by H. Gordon Deen; a Neurosurgeon with the prestigious Mayo Clinic, stated that "At Mayo Clinic we do not use or recommend laser spine surgery. Laser spine surgery has been around since the 1980s, but it has never been studied in a controlled clinical trial to determine its effectiveness. Most neurosurgeons don't use lasers for spine surgery because there are no clear benefits to laser surgery over better-established spine surgery techniques that have proven to be effective." This seems quite bizarre. There are a number of Spine Surgeons and large practices encompassing Spine Surgeons like the Laser Spine Institute that have actively marketed surgical procedures for which there has never been a controlled clinical trial to determine its effectiveness. In contrast, the number of detractors to laser spine surgery is substantial and in the context of automobile accident cases this surgery has served very little in my opinion other than to pad the pockets of greedy surgeons.

It is my opinion (shared by a majority of Orthopedic Spine Surgeons and Neurosurgeons, that laser spine surgery is at best a procedure(s) that could be useful for a very small segment of those suffering from chronic back or neck pain related to discogenic (i.e.,originating from the disc) pathology. Many surgeons who perform laserspine surgery and a very large number of this surgeons who practice only laser spine surgery tend to use these procedures as a cookie cutter solution to resolving all types of back and neck pathology and resulting symptomatology. It can be argued that many surgeons elect to pursue such surgeries for pecuniary gain as opposed to meritorious reasons.

Medical practices promoting Laser Spine surgery or the very Surgeons who actively practice such procedures will often state in their brochures or mailings that laser spine surgery is minimally invasive. This is often misleading as Laser Spine surgery is generally a quite traumatic process requiring an incision (sizeable opening). tearing through muscle and cutting bone, ligament and joint fragment out. The bone, ligaments and joint fragment removed is often healthy and normal, and removing such will oftentimes render permanent damage to the area resulting in permanent pathology and symptomatology. In turn, the patient will now require subsequent procedures and surgeries in the future to treat the issues caused or exacerbated by the laser spine surgery. In other words, the majority of laser spine surgeries serves nolegitimates medical purpose and are often used to treat pathology that is minimal or non-existent and as a result of such dubious medical procedures, the patient develops permanent pathology. The procedures are also marketed to individuals whom suffer from very serious symptoms caused by significant discogenic pathology for which LaserSpine surgery offers no legitimate solution.

Laser Spine procedures like the percutaneous endoscopic discectomy have served as cash cows for greedy Orthopedic Spine surgeons and Neurosurgeons. Legitimate science has proven that attempting to treat or decompress a disc with an annular tear that is symptomatic in nature by placing a new hole in an already damaged disc is illogical. By placing even a tiny hole in the periphery of the disc you are now exposing this disc to significant corruptibility. The hole will likely progress to the extent that the patient inevitably suffers from degenerative disc disease. The hole will likely spread and can stretch all the way into the nucleus resulting in another annular tear. In turn, the laser spine surgery itself may place the patient on a one-way path to inevitably requiring a fusion to treat the damaged disc.
In recent months a large facility in Tampa; Laser Spine Institute, came under fire for their marketing of a number of very similar laser spine procedures. In an article published by Bloomberg, author David Armstrong illustrates that Laser Spine Institute and its competitors, market laser spine surgery that lacks any independent researchthat documents the success or outcomes of such procedures. In fact, Laser Spine Institute has earned a less than stellar reputation as its rate of malpractice claims per 1000 surgeries is several times the rate of all U.S. outpatient surgery center’s. That is simply astonishing. We have medical practices performing surgeries with no independent research documenting the success of such, and the malpractice rate is several times the national norm. It makes me wonder why anyone in his or her right mind would undergo surgical intervention at Laser Spine Institute.

Even more revealing is the fact that Laser Spine Institute often charges in excess of $30,000.00 for a procedure. The author points out that this is at least twice as much as Aetna (the third largest health insurancecarrier in the U.S.) will pay for a laser-less procedure. Further, the author evidences that many of the Surgeons at Laser Spine Institute are investors in the very entity. Individual Surgeons at Laser Spine Institute perform as many as 5000 surgeries a year. It begs the question whether these surgeries are performed for legitimate purposes or for the cash incentives they create as shareholders of the verycorporation.

Many auto insurance carrier simply red flag claims in which the plaintiff attorney has submitted a demand for the at-fault party’s bodily injury coverage when the claimant has undergone laser spine surgery. The insurance carrier will focus on the exceedingly high bills and argue that many interventional pain management physicians (such as Physiatrists and Anesthesiologists) offer the very same procedures and bill between $5000.00 to $8000.00 for a procedure that Surgeon are billing in excess of $30,000.00 for. Defense lawyers center their arguments on the billing charges for such procedures at trial. The argument is not only that the surgery is dubious in nature, but that the purpose in performing such procedure is based on financial gain as opposed to the patient’s well being. A good number of cases based on the percutaneous endoscopic discectomies in recent years have resulted in defense verdicts throughout Florida and especially here in Pinellas County.

As a Clearwater personal injury attorney, I have seen a large growth in the number of surgeons in Pinellas,Manatee, Pasco and Hillsborough County who offer laser spine surgery and market attorneys and other physicians for clients/patients who have suffered back or neck injuries in the past five years.

For more information on the Bloomberg article or on how automobile insurance carriers perceive laser spine surgery, please contact me at: matt@dolmanlaw.com.

– Matthew A. Dolman, Esq.

Matthew A. Dolman, Esq., is a Clearwater personal injury attorney who limits his practice to first and third party insurance claims stemming from automobile accidents, wrongful death, traumatic brain injury, motorcycle accidents, catastrophic injuries, and insurance carrier bad faith. Dolman Law Group is a Clearwater and Bradentonbased personal injury and civil trial law firm that actively litigates first and third-party insurance claims in Pinellas, Manatee, Hillsborough, Pasco and Sarasota Counties.

For more information on Dolman Law Group and how we can assist you, please contact our firm at: 727-451-6900 or email me at: matt@dolmanlaw.com.

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