2 ways to cut spinal surgery costs

Spinal surgeries remain costly even as they increase in popularity, prompting clinicians and surgical center business managers to find ways to trim dollars off each procedure.

The average hospital charge for a spinal procedure is nearly $67,000, according to a study in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, although the cost can rapidly escalate into the six figures if complications arise.

Back pain is a commonplace complaint in an aging population, making the procedure a popular one. This has prompted some major hospitals to offer the service as part of their centers for excellence programs. Spinal surgeries can also be ripe for abuse, as indictments in a recent California case involving a small hospital in Long Beach indicated. And potential billing patterns reported by the Wall Street Journal in 2010 eventually led the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to release individual clinician billing data earlier this year.

Some outpatient surgical centers negotiate costs with spinal surgeons upfront, Outpatient Surgery reported, in an effort to reduce the amount being spent on the procedure.

"We communicate to surgeons that they can use whatever (equipment) they want, which makes us very attractive to them, but that we're only going to pay so much," Karen Reiter, chief operating officer of the Diagnostic and Interventional Surgical Center in Marina Del Rey, California told the publication.

Another way to prevent cost add-ons is to try and avoid complications such as post-surgical venous thromboembolic events (VTE). The cost of a surgery with a VTE skyrockets to more than $207,000, according to the study, while the average length of stay more than quadrupled from about four days to 18. The study of more than 710,000 spinal surgery patients at 244 hospitals through the U.S. noted that older patients, African-Americans and men wore more likely to suffer such a complication. Treatments for VTE before and after surgery would reduce their occurrences, the study suggested.

To learn more:
- here's the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery abstract
- check out the Outpatient Surgery article