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HSS Team Shares Enhanced Recovery Pathway for Complex Spine Surgery at American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 2021 Annual Meeting

Surgery to treat spine deformities in the lower back in adults is often complex. Experts at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) have been exploring ways to increase the efficacy and efficiency of these procedures, to improve both short-term and long-term patient outcomes and bring down costs.

Today at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) 2021 annual meeting, details of an enhanced recovery pathway developed for these patients were presented and the improvements that patients saw after being treated with this approach were described. The results of the investigation into its effectiveness were also published in January 2021 in The Spine Journal.

“In today’s healthcare environment, we’re all looking for ways to decrease costs and improve the quality of care we deliver,” says HSS spine surgeon and principal investigator Han Jo Kim, MD. “We wanted to see which factors were modifiable in the care of these patients, to help us decrease the time spent in the operating room and patients’ length of stay and minimize complication rates.”

The team started using its enhanced recovery pathway in February 2019. The study reports data from 40 patients who underwent fusions of at least five vertebrae in the lower back using the new protocol. Although spinal fusions of five or more vertebrae are considered complex procedures, they are relatively common and used to treat a number of conditions.

“Traditionally, these patients stayed in the hospital for at least seven or eight days,” Dr. Kim says. “This procedure has a high reported complication rate, and a high rate of revision surgeries, 90-day readmissions and dependence on rehabilitation facilities upon discharge. For those reasons, we thought it would be an important operation to evaluate when we started targeting methods to improve complex spine surgery.”

One key component of the new treatment pathway was always using the same surgical team, including surgical technicians, nurses and anesthesiologists. After surgery, the same physical therapy team cared for all the patients in the study, and patients were mobilized three times a day. Rigorous patient selection was also important for ensuring that patients could fully benefit from the optimization.

During surgery, the team focused on minimizing blood loss and keeping the time spent in the operating room as short as possible. When feasible, powered surgical instruments were used. The surgeries were done in four stages of one hour each, so that all members of the team would know how to anticipate the next phase of the operation.

Several changes were made postoperatively as well. The regimen for pain medication was modified to reduce the complications seen from narcotics. The patients were prompted to get out of bed the same day as their surgery, instead of waiting until the next day. And physical therapy sessions were increased from twice a day to three times a day.

When compared with matched patients treated without the optimized pathway, the study population achieved remarkable results. No patients went to the intensive care unit following surgery, compared with a usual rate of 30%. Hospital stays were decreased from an average of 7.3 days to 4.5 days. A higher rate of patients were discharged home versus to a rehabilitation facility (95% versus 65%). Overall patient outcomes at one year were equivocal.

“HSS is uniquely positioned to execute a program of this kind, because everyone here is dedicated to orthopedic surgery and care. That enables us to create and initiate optimized pathways,” Dr. Kim says. “Not every hospital has the infrastructure and resources to build this type of program, but we wanted to share what we did so other centers could model it. Ultimately, the goal is to improve the quality of care that we provide for patients and to decrease the costs by instituting such pathways across multiple healthcare systems in the country that care for complex spine patients.”

About HSS

HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the 14th consecutive year), No. 2 in rheumatology by U.S. News & World Report (2023-2024), and the best pediatric orthopedic hospital in NY, NJ and CT by U.S. News & World Report “Best Children’s Hospitals” list (2023-2024). In a survey of medical professionals in more than 20 countries by Newsweek, HSS is ranked world #1 in orthopedics for a fourth consecutive year (2023). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has the lowest readmission rates in the nation for orthopedics, and among the lowest infection and complication rates. HSS was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center five consecutive times. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State, as well as in Florida. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. In addition, more than 200 HSS clinical investigators are working to improve patient outcomes through better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat orthopedic, rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. The HSS Innovation Institute works to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The HSS Education Institute is a trusted leader in advancing musculoskeletal knowledge and research for physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, academic trainees, and consumers in more than 165 countries. The institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally.