It’s a fact that some spine surgeonshave higher success rates for the operations they perform than their colleagues. What accounts for these differences in surgical outcomes of spinal procedures? A number of factors influence surgical success rates and should be considered when interpreting what the rates say about a particular spinal surgeon’s abilities.
Spine surgery is a highly complex endeavor requiring years of training and experience to perfect. Surgeons with more experience tend to have more successful outcomes than less experienced surgeons. The success rates of board certified or board eligible spine surgeons are also typically higher than those of non-board certified or eligible surgeons. Another factor to consider: some surgeons specialize in specific areas of the spine – such as lumbar spinal surgery – and some specialize in treating particular conditions – such as slipped disc or spondylolisthesis – while other back surgeons do not specialize in any one type of treatment. Specialists have higher success rates than those of their colleagues who do not focus on the type of surgeries they perform.
Beyond the skill of the surgeon, success rates are also linked to the type of procedure chosen to treat a particular problem. The decision to utilize one procedure – perhaps because the surgeon is more familiar with it – rather than an alternative treatment, can also affect a surgeon’s success rate. For example, there is a choice in surgical stabilization procedures to employ following decompression spinal surgery, which is performed to treat conditions including spinal stenosis, spondylosis, and spinal cord injuries. In the past, spinal fusion back surgery has been virtually the only surgical stabilization option, but today an alternative procedure, the TOPS™ (Total Posterior Solution) System has been proven in clinical trials around the world to provide better success rates that spinal fusion. Thus, a back surgeon might have a better than average success rate performing spinal fusion procedures, but still not reach the success rates achieved with a new procedure. That’s why it’s important to be familiar with the full range of available treatment options when evaluating the success rates of any spine surgeon.