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The traction sisters

Spinal-halo-gravity traction times three

The traction sisters

Three girls received spinal-halo-gravity traction at the same time at Children’s National prior to surgery for acute idiopathic scoliosis.

Washington, D.C.’s ABC affiliate, WJLA, recently featured a story about three girls who received treatment for acute idiopathic scoliosis through the Children’s National Spinal Fusion Surgical Home, a comprehensive and effective program that has demonstrated reductions in pain medication usage and medical stays following posterior spinal fusion surgery.

All three girls had extremely severe curvatures of the spine requiring a month long inpatient stay for spinal halo-gravity traction prior to surgical intervention. Spinal curves severe enough to require traction are rare, and often impede a child’s quality of life just as severely – eating, breathing and moving are difficult. Given the long hospital stay required and the challenges of asking a child to stay in a traction frame 23 hours out of every day, the orthopaedic surgery team tries to coordinate cases so that when possible, patients can support each other throughout the process. This was the first time, however, that the team had three traction patients on similar trajectories on the unit at the same time.

Spinal halo-gravity traction can reduce the degree of surgical intervention necessary by accomplishing some pre-operative gradual straightening of the spine prior to spinal fusion procedures. For severe spinal deformities this has been shown to improve the safety and effectiveness of the final surgical procedure.

Matthew Oetgen, M.D., discusses an image of a patient’s spine.

Eliminating unnecessary radiation exposure from spinal radiography

Matthew Oetgen, M.D., discusses an image of a patient’s spine.

Chief of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Matthew Oetgen, M.D., discusses an image of a patient’s spine.

If a child arrives at the pediatric orthopaedic specialist for an idiopathic scoliosis evaluation without an adequate radiographic image of his or her spine, it’s often necessary to order yet another imaging study for accurate assessment.

A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons found that in a 6 month period, almost half (43 percent) of patients referred for evaluation required a repeat radiograph due to missing or poor quality existing images.

“Repeating the radiograph means these kids received another exposure to radiation, too,” says Matthew Oetgen, M.D., the study’s lead author and chief of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at Children’s National Health System. “It’s frustrating because in many cases, a simple change in how the initial radiograph was taken could have prevented the need for more imaging studies.”

Dr. Oetgen and the study authors note that there is currently no standardized protocol for spinal radiography of suspected idiopathic scoliosis. However, a few basic criteria could greatly reduce the number of repeat images necessary. Radiographic images that allow for proper evaluation of idiopathic scoliosis and reduce radiation exposure include:

  • A full coronal view of the spine including skull base and pelvis
  • The iliac crest as an indicator of skeletal maturity
  • A full-length lateral view of the spine

Study authors also reinforced the need to do everything possible to reduce radiation exposure for children through proper use of protective shielding for reproductive organs and digital radiograph technology.

“Orthopaedic surgeons and pediatricians share the responsibility to ensure children are exposed to as little iatrogenic radiation as possible,” Dr. Oetgen concludes. “All physicians should be sure that the radiology facilities they refer patients to for spinal radiography employ every technology and safety measure available to limit radiation exposure. Additionally, we can and should work with radiologists to define evaluation criteria and improve what’s captured by radiography on the first try.”

Matthew Oetgen examines a patient

Surgical home program for spinal fusion achieves long-term success

Matthew Oetgen examines a patient

“Our primary goal was to improve the value of care for children with scoliosis and their families,” says Dr. Oetgen. “Even better, we’ve shown that this model can be used consistently over time to maintain the benefits it delivers to this patient population.”

“Creating an effective process that benefits patients, is sustainable long term and doesn’t increase costs is one of the most challenging parts of any new procedure, both in health care and beyond,” says Matt Oetgen, M.D., chief of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at Children’s National.

Dr. Oetgen’s team accomplished this feat when building the Children’s National Spinal Fusion Surgical Home. The team used LEAN process mapping at the outset to engage a broad group of care providers who established a collaborative environment that empowered and engaged everyone to take ownership over a new care pathway for every patient who undergoes posterior spinal fusion surgery at the hospital.

This unique model designed using proven business process development tools has allowed patients require fewer pain medications after surgery and have shorter stays in the hospital. Even better, the team has maintained the integrity of the pathway consistently over a longer period of time than any other pediatric spinal fusion care model to date.

“Our primary goal was to improve the value of care for children with scoliosis and their families,” says Dr. Oetgen, who was the study’s lead author. “Even better, we’ve shown that this model can be used consistently over time to maintain the benefits it delivers to this patient population.”

The team conducted a retrospective analysis of prospective data from all patients (213) undergoing posterior spinal fusion at Children’s National Health System from 2014 to 2017, a period of time that captures nearly one year  before implementation of the new pathway and 2.5 years after implementation. The outcomes were reported in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

As pressure builds to increase the value of care, many hospital systems are trying standardized care pathways for many complex conditions, in an effort to decrease care variability, improve outcomes and decrease cost. Previous research has shown the effectiveness of a variety of standardized pathways with wide ranging goals for spinal fusion procedures, however, most published studies have focused only on the initial success of these pathways. This study is the first to look at the implementation over a period of 2.5 years to gauge whether the process and its effectiveness could be maintained long term.

The authors attribute physician buy-in across disciplines and strict adherence to pathway processes as key to the success of this model. In addition, the team created standardized educational procedures for onboarding new care providers and implemented standardized electronic order sets for both orthopaedic and anesthesia services to make the pathway easy to maintain with little deviation over time. Lean process mapping at the outset included a broad group of care providers who established a collaborative environment that empowered and engaged the entire team to take ownership over the new process.

“We used proven business models for culture change that were critical to the success of this program,” Dr. Oetgen says. “We’re proud of the model we have created and think it would work well in other pediatric hospitals with similar patient populations.”

Scoliosis X-ray image

Improved procedures, reduced harm: Moving the needle on spinal fusion

Scoliosis X-ray image

In many cases of pediatric scoliosis, a surgical posterior spinal fusion – a life-changing yet complicated process – is needed to straighten the spine.

As part of its ongoing transition to value-based care, Children’s National is constantly reevaluating systems and processes across specialties and proactively seeking ways to deliver the highest quality care. This includes treatments for everything from the rarest of diseases to more frequent conditions, such as pediatric scoliosis.

In many cases of pediatric scoliosis, a surgical posterior spinal fusion – a life-changing yet complicated process – is needed to straighten the spine. The procedure involves permanently fusing bones over the curved part of the spine and requires expert coordination among physicians, nurses and therapists. To improve the procedure and make it as safe and efficient as possible, experts at Children’s National developed a first-of-its-kind pediatric spinal fusion surgical home, an innovative, family-centered approach that is making a real impact.

Prior to this initiative, patients who underwent posterior spinal fusion to treat scoliosis spent multiple days across multiple units in the hospital. Thanks to a comprehensive care pathway with input from all care providers treating these patients, overall recovery time has been reduced as well as days in the hospital. This in turn decreased the costs to both the families and Children’s National.

In the first six months of implementation, changes included decreasing the average length of stay from approximately five days to three and a half days, decreased blood transfusion rate and less use of opioid pain medications. Each of these pieces directly contributes to the safety of a child and decreased costs across the board. Ultimately, implementing cutting-edge practices like these brings the organization closer to zero harm and helps move the needle on patient care across the industry.

MAGEC Rod Tool

MAGEC growing rod improves orthopaedics

MAGEC Spinal Growing Rod Inside Boy

After implanting a MAGEC Spinal Growing Rod, doctors use an external remote control to lengthen the magnetically controlled rod as the child grows.

Children’s National Health System was among the first in the country to offer a novel spinal growing rod for children with scoliosis after it was approved by the FDA just three years ago – and has now treated 30 patients with this innovative technique. The MAGEC™ (MAGnetic Expansion Control) Spinal Growing Rod is a non-invasive treatment for children with early onset scoliosis.

After the initial procedure to implant the rod, doctors use an external remote control outside of the body to lengthen the magnetically controlled rod as the child grows. The adjustments are non-invasive, reducing the number of surgeries required during the course of treatment.

Growing rods have become effective tools for children whose spinal curvature is too significant to control with bracing or casting. The rods—which are surgically attached to the spine above and below the curve and then traditionally lengthened during follow-up surgical procedures—allow the spine to continue growing while managing the curve until the child is old enough for spinal fusion.

The problem: Children must bear the physical and psychological burden of undergoing lengthening procedures every six to 12 months until they are skeletally mature enough to have spinal fusion—typically around age 10 for girls and age 12 or 13 for boys.

Now, instead of returning to the hospital for a major surgery to adjust growth rods twice a year, children with the MAGEC rod have adjustments in just a few minutes four times a year – minus invasive surgery and recovery time, says Matthew Oetgen, M.D., Division Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine and Director of Orthopaedic Research at Children’s National.

“Traditional growing rods work, but they require multiple surgeries that increase complication rates and time spent in the hospital,” he says. “We treat many children each year who have or are candidates for growing rods, so it’s important for us to embrace new technology to make the lengthening process easier and less painful for children while decreasing morbidity.”

Children’s National orthopaedic surgeons lengthen the MAGEC rod every three to four months in the office using the electronic remote control. They then monitor the scoliosis and treatment progress with radiographs. Like traditional growing rods, MAGEC is a means, not an end—the system provides a bridge treatment spanning the years between the initial lengthening surgery and spinal fusion.

Dr. Oetgen says this game-changing technology may not be the right solution for every patient, but is the preferred choice because the patients can avoid some additional surgeries down the line. Patients in the 5-7 year age range at the time the rod is in place would potentially face 10 years of surgeries every six months with traditional growing rods.

“We’ve eliminated these regularly scheduled procedures, which is great if you’re a healthy kid,” Oetgen says. “But if you are a kid with other health challenges, such as a neuromuscular disease – it’s really life changing not to have to go into surgery every six months. It saves them a tremendous amount of intervention.”

Following MAGEC’s approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February 2014, surgeons at Children’s National performed two of the first 15 MAGEC implantations in the country, and the first in the greater Washington, DC, area. MAGEC rods are approved for children with scoliosis greater than 50 degrees in magnitude and under 10 years of age.

On the horizon for this new technology are some improvements Oetgen says would allow physicians using MAGEC rods to improve the patient experience even more. “Smarter” devices could potentially tell doctors how much lengthening has actually occurred after they’ve pushed the buttons on the remote control – instead of having to follow up the procedure with an x-ray to see how the rod interacted with soft tissue around the spine, he says.

And the next generations of MAGEC rods may be smaller devices, allowing younger, smaller kids to reap the benefits.

“In the future these improvements will allow us to treat more patients, and allow us to know what we’re doing and what kind of feedback we’re getting,” Oetgen says.

Spinal fusion surgical home helps kids go home sooner

scoli-1

The first of its kind for pediatric patients, the Children’s National Spinal Fusion Surgical Home implements a newly developed model of care to streamline and optimize the spinal fusion process for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patients.

Using frameworks of care used in adult models, along with best practices and literature reviews, a multidisciplinary team developed the first Spinal Fusion Surgical Home for pediatric patients. It standardizes the infection-control process, pain-management pathway, and physical-therapy program for patients undergoing spinal fusion.

“This model eliminates variability in the care process and increases the quality of care for pediatric patients,” said Matthew Oetgen, MD, MBA, Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. “It’s just the start—by developing this model specifically for our young patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, we are paving the way for a number of other kids that require different kinds of surgeries.”

Hallmarks of the spinal fusion surgical home
From pre-operative care through recovery, the Spinal Fusion Surgical Home streamlines care with an emphasis on increasing quality outcomes for patients. Children’s National provides an informational website and a single point of contact for scheduling procedures and pre-operative laboratory exams. Before surgery, patients and families attend an evening education class that features presentations from orthopaedic nurse practitioners, physical therapists, and anesthesiologists.

After surgery, a nurse follows up by phone to assess how the patient is handling pain and healing.

Increasing the quality of care
By implementing these standardized protocols, Children’s National has seen a decrease in the average length of stay for spinal fusion patients from about five days to three and a half days. The surgical home also has reduced the transfusion rate from 30 to 12 percent, and patient pain scores have decreased.  “Patients are getting better faster with less pain, and are getting to leave the hospital sooner,” says Karen Thomson, MD.

Children’s National also is creating surgical homes for sickle cell disease patients, who need a variety of different types of surgery, as well as for children who need Nissen fundoplication and heart surgery.