On May 2, 2014 I attended the New Jersey Association for Justice Workers’ Compensation seminar in Atlantic City.  The seminar speakers presented various topics, including one very interesting presentation by Dr. Mark Testauiti of Coastal Spine in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey.   Dr. Testauiti is a board-certified neurosurgeon who specializes exclusively in spinal care.  Dr. Testauiti spoke about “Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery.”  According to the doctor’s presentation and Costal Spine’s web site, this procedure means a smaller incision and a smaller scar during spinal surgery, and may lead to less blood loss and a shorter hospital stay.  These factors may make spinal surgery more palatable to injured workers when one considers the fact that traditional open surgery results in larger cuts in surrounding muscle tissue to get to the damaged part of the spine.  The minimally invasive route should lead to a quicker recovery and a decreased need for pain medication, both of which should lead to a happier patient.   (see Righesso, Comparison of Open Discectomy with Microendoscopic Discectomy in Lumbar Disc Herniations: Results of a Randomized Control Trial. Neurosurgery. 61:545-549, 2007.)

I was surprised to learn that the minimally invasive surgeries can be used during the more serious lumbar fusion surgeries as well as the less invasive decompression procedures.  The surgeries are done with special tubes that hold the muscles open and in place during the operation.  The instruments used by the surgeon to perform the surgery fit through the tubes. X-rays are used for guidance throughout the procedure.  From Dr. Testauiti’s slide presentation it certainly appeared that this procedure involves much less cutting of surrounding muscles and tissue to get to the damaged discs.  Dr. Testauiti stated that all of the surgeries done by the physicians in his facility are done by the Minimally Invasive Method.  Dr. Testauiti also stressed the fact that as a physician dealing with injured workers, he is careful to counsel his patients on what to expect and return to work issues from the first time he meets with them.  As an attorney who represents injured workers, I certainly appreciate a physician who takes the time to hear what his patients have to say, and counsels them accordingly.  This is something that unfortunately is not done often enough, leaving my clients confused and upset about the medical care they are receiving.  

Information about minimally invasive surgery is useful  for workers’ compensation carriers, who have the absolute right to control medical care under the workers’ compensation system.  It would be useful for the carriers to consider sending injured workers to physicians who perform the minimally invasive spine surgeries so that the injured worker can have a speedier recovery, and  then hopefully return to work at their prior jobs.  In addition, in the rare case where the injured worker is actually given a choice of surgeons, they should know that these types of procedures exist, so that they can make informed decisions on matters that affect their health and well being. 

If you have any questions about work related injuries, or your workers’ compensation case please contact Stark & Stark today.