Pushing Back

New Comprehensive Spine Center unites experts to fight neck, back pain

By Todd Taylor

Back and neck care for residents of Gainesville, the Southeast and beyond has taken a significant step forward with the launch of the UF Health Comprehensive Spine Center.

Using a multidisciplinary approach, the center unites spine, neck and back pain experts from several UF College of Medicine departments under one roof, including neurosurgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians, pain physicians and neurologists.

“The current state of spine care in the U.S. is very fragmented — patients go from location to location, seeing multiple doctors, often ending up frustrated and without any solutions,” said Daniel Hoh, M.D., a UF Health neurosurgeon and an associate professor in the department of neurosurgery.

“This center provides a system where patients don’t need to see two or three different physicians for surgical and nonsurgical opinions, or wait to be referred elsewhere. The resources are all right here and are available for patients seeking same-day appointments.”

Experts estimate that nearly 80 percent of the U.S. population will experience back problems during their lifetime. The root cause of back and neck pain can be wide-ranging, leaving patients unsure of where to seek an initial consultation. This type of pain is the second-leading cause of primary care physician visits, and E.R.s are another common point of entry for these patients.

Kevin Vincent, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of orthopaedics and rehabilitation, said this often leads to a delayed diagnosis. The center, he said, represents a much-needed move toward more comprehensive back and neck care.

“Our multidisciplinary approach will allow us to address the reasons behind back pain more quickly,” said Vincent, the medical operations director of the UF Health Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Institute. “This will lead to less use of medications that frequently aren’t beneficial, particularly narcotics and muscle relaxants. Additionally, it will lead to more appropriate use of advanced imaging and testing.”

Centrally locating specialists from various medical disciplines also

will reduce referrals, expedite the process of connecting patients with the appropriate care expert and provide a wider range of treatment options.

“Modern comprehensive spine management involves a spectrum of treatments, from activity modification and therapy to minimally invasive pain management procedures to advanced surgical solutions,” said Stephen Lucas, M.D., an associate professor in the department of anesthesiology and associate chair of pain medicine. “By bringing all the specialties together we can focus on how to best improve the quality of life of our patients.”

With more funds being allocated to treat back and neck pain than nearly any other medical condition in the U.S., the center’s model is the wave of the future, said Hoh.

“This is a very real-world societal issue that’s putting a strain on our health care system,” he said. “We expect the center will not only allow us to improve patient satisfaction and quality, but also increase the efficiency of hospital resources and lower the cost of care by reducing redundancies and variation in care.”

From an educational perspective, the center will provide spine care trainees a unique opportunity to learn from a wide range of experts.

“The center offers an ideal educational environment for the training of our next generation of spine specialists, which will ultimately benefit our patients and advance research,” said Rene Przkora, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of anesthesiology and director of the multidisciplinary pain medicine fellowship program.

Brian Hoh, M.D., chair of the Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery and a member of UF’s Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute, said the center’s location within the UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital is the ideal setting for this enhanced approach to spine care.

“With a comprehensive spine center, patients benefit from the best possible patient-centric care that is personalized and individualized for each patient, whether the treatment is nonsurgical, a minimally invasive intervention, surgery or some combination, from a multidisciplinary team in one state-of-the art location,” he said.