Competition spurs spine practices to meet consumers in new ways

Practice Management

As consumerism in healthcare continues to rise, so too will competition between practices. Five spine surgeons discuss how practices can stand out in a crowded and increasingly consumer-focused market. 

Ask Spine Surgeons is a weekly series of questions posed to spine surgeons around the country about clinical, business and policy issues affecting spine care. Becker's invites all spine surgeon and specialist responses.

Next week's question: What are the biggest challenges your practice faces when it comes to the patient experience? How are you addressing those challenges?

Please send responses to Alan Condon at by 5 p.m. CDT Wednesday, Aug. 17.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: How can spine practices set themselves up for success and stand out in an increasingly consumerized market? 

Philip Schneider, MD. The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics (Bethesda, Md.): There are many ways a practice can set itself up for unmatched success. First, I believe that care centers and physicians should embrace digital communication methods. Not all physicians are social media savvy, but this is a useful tool for practices and physicians to connect with patients. Additionally, patients often look online before choosing a physician, so a website that is professional, interactive and navigable is necessary. Online scheduling is also a mutually beneficial tool for both physicians and patients, saving patients time and allowing physicians to treat more patients.

I also believe that accessibility is critical for practices to gain a competitive advantage. At CAO, we offer telehealth appointments, extended evening hours, weekend hours and walk-in hours to meet our patients' needs. Lastly, patients want to know what they are paying, so price transparency will remain important. 

Chester Donnally, MD. Texas Spine Consultants (Addison): Availability. Having a quick response when patients call in is something that I really place a huge value on. As a young surgeon I jokingly tell my referral sources that I'm not the team physician for the local professional team, but I have more time available than others. I also tell them that the biggest commodity I have compared to the rest of the market is time. I have the time to spend with patients and the time to spend getting their patients in fast.

I get many patients that live in rural Texas or El Paso. This could be nine to 12 hours away. They will fly or drive to see me because I make myself available and their local neurosurgeon is booked out for three months and doesn't spend much time with the patients. When you're in a smaller town, you can get away with that no problem. So, a patient driving pretty far within their state to see another specialist is a no-brainer for them. 

John Burleson, MD. Hughston Clinic Orthopaedics (Nashville, Tenn.): Despite the ever-increasing digital age we find ourselves in, I believe the best way to gain a constant referral pattern is relatively analog. Meeting with primary care physicians and other referral practitioners and frequently following up with them is key. After I see their patients, I frequently communicate back with their referring provider to update them on the patient's plan, but also to thank them for the referral. This only takes a few minutes but I believe it stands out in their minds and assures them that their patients are receiving top-notch care. It is about more than just a gift at Christmas — I want these other hard-working physicians to know I am around all year and available to share their burdens and answer their questions. 

Brian Gantwerker, MD. The Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: Setting one's self apart in terms of a crowded field is a challenge that eats up a lot of the run-up time of nascent practices.  Hire experienced and professional staff, not the least expensive ones. Focus less on style, and more on substance. Following through with the little things you tell patients you will do builds trust as well as your reputation. Be accessible, a good listener and answer each patient question. Lastly, follow up with your referring physicians and send them a copy of your clinic notes and op reports. In a case where things go sideways, keep them in the loop and abreast of developments and what you are doing to fix things.  

Brian Fiani, DO. Weill Cornell Medicine/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (New York City): I am very fortunate to train at Weill Cornell/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, which is currently ranked as Newsweek's No. 1 neurosurgery hospital in the world. The hospital is in Manhattan in New York City, known for some of the world's best hospitals including Hospital for Special Surgery, Mount Sinai, and as seen on Netflix, Lenox Hill. I was able to witness, firsthand, how practices set themselves up for success and stand out in an increasingly consumerized market. In New York City, patients are incredibly well-educated and have access to the best medical care in the world. The importance of having the most cutting-edge technology, superior training and ability to provide excellent patient care (both when the patient is in your office/hospital and outside of it) are key factors. 

Charismatic interaction and personalized engagement with the patient/their family while displaying expert-level medical knowledge and surgical prowess are of the utmost importance. Patients should feel confident in their surgeon and the surgeon's entire practice which includes office staff and physician assistants/nurse practitioners. Ultimately, give the patient's the ability to brag about who performed their surgery, what would you want them to say?

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