How speaking the language business is helping 1 surgeon build a spine program

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Spine surgeon Andrew Chung, MD, has been with Banner Del Webb Medical Center for just over two years, and spent the last year building the hospital's foothold in minimally invasive surgery.

"It's something I've always been interested in," he told Becker's. "That led me to go to [the University of Southern California] for fellowship, where at the time it was one of  the few that truly was offering more minimally invasive training on the orthopedic spine side … That really appealed to me, and I wanted to bring that back to wherever I ended up settling down."

So far, the Sun City West, Ariz.-based hospital is piloting unilateral bi-portal endoscopy, and there are plans to introduce awake spine surgery, Dr. Chung said. Long term, Dr. Chung said he hopes the hospital can be considered a center of excellence for spine surgery offering minimally invasive techniques.

Bringing on new technologies can be a challenging ask with some robots costing upwards of $1 million. And the disposable costs associated with endoscopic spine surgery are costlier for hospitals than open procedures, according to a study in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine.

But Dr. Chung said the health system has been largely supportive of his endeavors.

"I was very fortunate to have the support of the administration, and they believed in what we were doing out there. They've been very supportive about allowing us to bring some of these enabling technologies into the hospital as it's not always easy. These capital costs can be quite high for robotics or endoscopy. To have the support of the administration has been a huge kind of boon to us being able to develop that kind of program out there."

One thing that Dr. Chung said helped him is understanding the objectives of leadership.

"At the end of the day, they have to think about the financials," he said. "They've got to think about how this is going to help grow their finances over time and if it makes sense. If you're bringing something in that is only just going to suck money away from the hospital, at the end of the day, they have to keep the lights on and they're held accountable for making profits. Being able to kind of help them understand, 'Well, hey, there might be this upfront cost, but in the long run or in terms of, additional business that we'll be able to bring to the hospital, it will be fruitful.'"

Dr. Chung said he encourages other physicians to learn how to communicate from a business perspective if they're interested in starting new spine surgery initiatives of their own.

"We're not taught how to speak business or sit in a room with administrators and convince them financially that something makes sense," he said. "We only see the clinical side of things. But the reality is many administrators don't have a surgical background and they don't know these things. You have to be able to speak their language and communicate in their terms why these things are potentially beneficial." 

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