The Patient Experience
The typical process for minimally invasive spine surgery begins with an office consultation to look at the patient’s history and have a current physical examination. The surgeon looks at any appropriate medical imaging like x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs. He or she then has a consultative approach with the patient to listen to them and get their symptoms.
The spine doctor will consider their complaints and evaluate the pathology, the objective findings from the advanced imaging, and then formulate treatment options for the patient. Sometimes, surgery is not the first option. Patients sometimes come to us after trying many other options like conservative care, physical therapy, and pain management. Every situation is completely different. However, the patient should feel very certain that when surgery is being recommended, that is the best option for them to permanently resolve their problem.
Prior to Surgery
Before surgery, a patient can expect office visits, possible appointments for imaging and other testing, as well as possible appointments with other specialists to rule out other medical implications or to ensure the correct diagnosis. A patient may try physical therapy or pain management as surgical alternatives to get better first. Sometimes they are ready for surgery at the time they consult.
During the Surgery
During the surgery, the patient is asleep and cared for by a team of professionals who perform these surgeries. Besides the spinal surgeon, there is an assistant surgeon who is highly qualified and skilled. Additionally, there are usually multiple nurses in the room as well as an anesthesiologist. There is other medical personnel that use fluoroscopy to take x-ray images during the surgery and neuromonitoring to ensure that there are no neurologic complications during the surgery. Postoperative care will be provided while the patient is in recovery.
Surgery can be a very scary thing when the person comes on the day of the procedure. The health care professionals make sure that the patient is relaxed and feels that they are being cared for appropriately. The physicians and staff will listen, care, show concern, and take all precautions into account to give the patient quality medical treatment.
The anesthesia used on a patient during surgery depends on the recommended procedure for the patient. Most advanced spinal surgeries require general anesthesia, whether it is a minimally invasive spine surgery or maximally invasive such as an open back procedure. In some rare circumstances, some of the procedures can be done under a local anesthetic if the patient also has a mild sedation. The main consideration in that situation is the patient’s health.
There is a difference between local and general anesthesia. With local anesthesia, the patient is awake and the doctor is able to communicate with them. It is possible that a patient may go under some mild sedation from an oral medication to put them in a more relaxed state while a local anesthetic is applied.
With general anesthesia, the patient is not awake to observe or communicate. Usually, there are multiple medications that are involved in general anesthesia to make sure that the patient does not move while he or she is in surgery.
Typically, having the patient under anesthesia renders the patient unable to move and is less stressful to the patient. Sometimes, the noises and the sounds of surgery can be very stressful to some individuals and by providing general anesthesia, we are improving the patient’s experience. There is a benefit to reducing stress in the patient emotionally and physically.
However, the main reason to use a local anesthetic is if the patient has other health complications such as weight. The patient is high risk and may not be a candidate for general anesthesia. If someone has had a prior cardiac issue, they may not be a candidate for general anesthesia.
After surgery, the patient can expect to be in a recovery room for post-op care. In the following weeks, they must take it easy, have post-operative visits, and cannot return to normal activities until their spine surgeon gives them the approval to do so. Most importantly, a patient needs to recover fully. Spinal surgery is very serious but the risks can be avoided if the patient takes the time to recover.
Our Tampa back surgeon’s patient care is very consistent. There is not much deviation in terms of how we conduct ourselves, so it is unlikely that one patient has a vastly different experience from another. However, because of the factors we cannot control, such as when a patient suffers a complication from a potential risk, their experience is different from someone who had no complications. It is important to note that the potential for problems is significantly low.