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One procedure linked to major surgical mistakes

Any medical device and/or course of treatment that promises to improve patient care and quality of life is worth considering. And for all of the people in the state of New York and beyond that suffer from chronic back problems and pain, the need for effective treatment options is dire. Unfortunately, however, some procedures come with unique risks and issues. The prevalence of serious surgical errors relating to one specific spinal procedure is gaining attention, raising concerns over medical guidelines and physician training.

Spinal stimulators are implanted near the spinal cord and generate low-current pulses of electricity that are believed to mask pain signals from the spine to the brain. Currently, it is estimated that 50,000 patients receive spinal stimulator implants every year in America, and there are three leading manufacturers that sell each device for up to $60,000.

According to one study conducted by a manufacturer, less than 10 percent of patients treated with conventional methods experienced at least a 50-percent decrease in pain over a set period of time, whereas almost 50 percent of spinal-stimulator implant patients experienced the same results. Those promising figures were coupled, however, with the concerning estimation that up to 25 percent of implant patients required further surgeries to address related complications.

Now, the FDA reports that 58 cases of spinal stimulator-related paralysis occurred last year alone. Beyond that, one university-led study found that some level of nerve and/or spinal damage was sustained by approximately 1 percent of implant patients.

While there is a limited amount of independent findings on the subject, some experts attribute surgical errors and paralysis rates in spinal stimulator patients to poor training guidelines and standards for physicians. A lack of medical oversight may also play a role.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "When Spine Implants Cause Paralysis, Who Is to Blame?," Joseph Walker, April 15, 2014

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