Many spine procedures no longer require a hospital stay and are performed regularly at outpatient facilities.
A half-century ago, the idea of undergoing spine surgery anywhere but in a hospital was unheard of. But 50 years after the first ambulatory surgical center opened in the United States, huge numbers of highly safe and effective outpatient spine surgeries are performed every year, says Kaixuan Liu MD, PhD, founder and medical director of Atlantic Spine Center.
The explosion of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) in just the last 3 decades (from about 500 in 1988 to more than 5,800 today) has merged with even newer trends in spine surgery techniques to place outpatient spine surgery as one of the top procedures done at ASCs, according to the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association.
“A perfect pairing of advances in minimally invasive spine surgery and an ever-expanding number of ASCs has served to make most spine procedures available to patients in convenient, safe facilities close to their homes,” Dr. Liu explains. “Offering these operations on an outpatient basis is saving patients time and money without sacrificing quality or top-notch outcomes.”
The roster of spine procedures that can be performed at ASCs is growing every year, says Dr. Liu, who is fellowship-trained in minimally invasive spine surgery. Among these are neck and spine fusion, lower back disc surgery, and spinal cord decompression.
“Not everyone who needs spine surgery can have it done on an outpatient basis. It depends on both individual patient factors and the exact procedure they need,” Dr. Liu notes. “But research indicates more than half of all spine surgeries can be performed at ASCs, which is a huge increase from only 15 years ago.”
Innovation fuels growth
As with most types of surgery, the field of spine surgery has seen astonishing changes due to improved technology. “This constant evolution has undoubtedly driven the snowballing popularity of outpatient spine surgery among both physicians and patients over the past 2 decades alone,” Dr. Liu explains.
What do these innovations include?
Specialized surgical tools that require only tiny incisions for surgeons to access the spine also avoid excess cutting of delicate muscle tissue that can take longer to heal.
Powerful microscopes and endoscopes allow surgeons to view smaller spaces inside the body without sacrificing precision.
Alternative approaches to access the spine such as the side or front of the body, which also spares muscles from trauma.
Doctors, too, are doing their part to perform outpatient spine procedures better than ever by engaging in advanced training, Dr. Liu says. “This helps surgeons make the most of all the advanced surgical tools at their disposal now,” he adds. “Patients are also better educated about what’s entailed in spine surgery and recovery so they’re ready to maximize their own outcomes.”
The growing use of outpatient spine surgery offers patients benefits large and small, Dr. Liu says. These include:
- Smaller incisions
- Less bleeding
- Less pain
- Quicker recovery
- Greater comfort recovering at home than in a hospital
- Lower costs. “The expense of an overnight hospital stay is eliminated, and health insurers are also less likely to deny coverage for procedures that don’t require hospitalization,” Dr. Liu points out.
- Lower infection risks at home than in a hospital
“With every year that passes, I see the demand for outpatient spine surgery continue to surge,” Dr. Liu says. “Ultimately, tackling spine procedures this way helps patients return to normal life more quickly, which is a definite win.”