Several of our blog posts this year, such as “Why Spine Centers Should Collect Outcomes Data,” “Can You Charge for Nurse Navigation Services?,” and “Five Most Important Influences on Spine Nurse Navigator to Patient Ratios,” assume that our readers have established spine centers. However, I know that is not the case and that many people look to the Priority Consult team for assistance developing spine centers. So, this is the first post in an ongoing series called “How to Develop a Spine Center,” which will review the steps we recommend for spine center development
Many hospital administrators find themselves given the complicated task of turning a network of multiple spine providers and services into a cohesive, streamlined facility with a singular identity. How do they do this? How do administrators find the right mix of employed and private practice providers? How do they get the hospitals’ services aligned so patients can begin treatment almost immediately after a referral?
I am going to list the most crucial questions for administrators to answer at the very beginning of spine center development. These questions are based on the Priority Consult Spine team’s experience working with dozens of hospital administrators over the last decade, struggling to figure out the best approach for their hospitals to develop spine centers.
Questions to consider, Part 1:
What is the goal of the spine center?
There are many important reasons to develop a spine center, such as improving patient care, improving referring physician and patient satisfaction, increasing revenue and remaining competitive in your market. However, most hospitals have one or two goals that really drive the development of their spine center. It is important to know what this is because it should guide everything you do from this point on.
How do patients currently receive appointments with spine providers at your hospital?
It is impossible to know what changes you want to implement in your spine program if you do not know how it currently operates. Identifying your program’s current processes and structure will provide the groundwork for spine center development.
Do you want to include non-employed specialists in your community?
Many hospitals invite employed and non-employed spine specialists to participate in their spine centers. Although administrators often fret about this decision and worry about which physicians will opt out, I would argue that everyone involved, including patients, wins by including more specialists in the spine center. The safest bet, by far, is to be inclusive. Specialists who decline the invitation will often come around to the idea after seeing the spine center’s success.
What are the current wait times for pain management, interventional radiology, neurosurgery, orthopedic spine surgery, diagnostics and other spine services offered by the hospital?
Metrics like these are incredibly helpful, not only for spine center development but also for the future. If the wait times are unacceptable, in your mind, this can increase your motivation and vision towards throwing out the current approach to providing care and trying something altogether different. Also, six months or a year down the road, it will be possible to compare current wait times with the new spine center to the previous wait times. This can be one way of determining the center’s success.
What current obstacles prevent your patients from beginning treatment promptly?
To answer this question, interview the staff in your spine providers’ offices, referring physicians and their referral specialists and patients. You might be surprised by the answers, but you will definitely come away with a better understanding of how to provide better care, improve patient and referring physician satisfaction and align your new spine center processes.
How many spine surgeries were performed at your hospital last year? How many surgeries were lost to competitors?
This information provides a metric for determining future spine center success and helps determine surgery volume estimates for the spine center’s first year.
How many new patient referrals do your spine providers currently receive in an average month?
This question is similar to the previous question. The number of new patient referrals will allow your providers and the hospital to measure success and prepare a reliable estimate for the number of new patient referrals to the spine center during the first year.
When you have answered these initial questions, you will have the necessary information to begin laying the foundation of your spine center. You will also know more about your current spine program, what works and what does not work for your physicians and patients. Starting the spine center development process without this information would almost surely doom you to repeat the mistakes of your current program.
Are there other questions that you feel belong in Part 1? Are you at this stage right now? What challenges and surprises are you encountering? In my next post, I will discuss building your spine center development team.