Dr. Thomas Grissom, board president at Surgery Center of Wasilla, an ambulatory surgical center (ASC) joint venture with Regent Surgical Health, is committed to expanding access to affordable healthcare in the growing Wasilla community, hub of the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Valley about 45 miles from Anchorage, Alaska. A pain management specialist and one of 14 experienced physicians in the ASC partnership, Grissom has pioneered the use of minimally invasive surgical techniques to cost-effectively improve the quality of life for his patients.
“With Regent’s help, we have been successful in bringing together a diverse group of physicians with a common goal to improve the delivery of surgical services to the community,” Grissom said. “The point is, we’re about better care at a lower cost to benefit the Valley and the people who live here. We’re all owners, and part of ownership is the ability to be more responsive to the people than we could be if we were working for a big hospital system.”
As the only multi-specialty surgery center in the Mat-Su Valley, Surgery Center of Wasilla will serve more than 100,000 people who otherwise would need to travel far from their homes to access outpatient surgical services.
The facility offers services in pain management, orthopedics, spine, ENT, urology, podiatry, general surgery, GI, gynecology, ophthalmology, and varicose vein treatment.
Fellowship-trained in minimally invasive surgery, Grissom has over 26 years of medical experience, including 19 years in the field of pain management. Much of his work at Surgery Center of Wasilla is focused on minimally invasive spinal surgery, using regenerative techniques and minimal access endoscopy as a bridge for patients between traditional back surgery and pain management.
According to Grissom, when people think about spine surgery, they often imagine a lengthy and painful procedure. But thanks to evolving technologies, a substantial number of minimally invasive procedures are now possible in ASCs, allowing patients to go home the same day as the surgery and avoiding many of the complications and costs associated with in-patient hospitalization.
“We can’t do everything, but we can sometimes prevent a patient from needing a bigger procedure,” he explained. “We’re doing intradiscal, stem cell and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections and they’re very well-received. The patients are getting benefits, and relatively inexpensively. The cost of a minimally invasive technique might be around $1,500, versus the cost of a traditional, single level spinal fusion with hospital stay at around $50,000. Again, it’s not a panacea, but if you can prevent a bigger procedure and they get good benefit, why not?”
Grissom says compared to other procedures, minimally invasive techniques involve less bleeding, smaller amounts of anesthesia, less pain, and minimal scarring, and can be more attractive in terms of time spent, recovery time, likelihood of success and worry over an adverse outcome.
“You’re basically stimulating the disc to help it repair itself,” Grissom said. “It’s cutting-edge right now, and there is some reluctance among traditional surgeons in the U.S. because there is a steep learning curve to learn how to do it. But in my opinion, in 10-15 years this may be standard of care. Surgeons will need to try the less invasive techniques before payers will approve a bigger surgery. We’re not there yet; but we’re pioneers in this in the state of Alaska right now.”
Some of the conditions being treated with minimally invasive surgery include spinal stenosis, scoliosis, arthritic conditions, and even fractures, tumors, infections and spinal instability. Next on the horizon, according to Grissom, is even more work in the areas of regenerative medicine to repair and return tissue to its original state.
“We still need traditional spinal surgery to address things like instability and the narrowing of the spinal canal,” he said, “those conditions are more extreme and need decompression and fusion.
“But we’re definitely filling the gap between the two,” he continued. “Patients need to be educated on their options. You can always do more, but you can never go back and do less. The minimally invasive options we present are a way to avoid surgery if you have a good outcome. And if it doesn’t work, you can always go get the surgery. From a patient advocate standpoint, I would always use the less invasive procedure first as part of the treatment algorithm.”
In addition, Grissom says, it comes back to affordability. “Using these less invasive techniques helps us to control the costs to patients who can’t afford it. At Wasilla, our fee schedule is less than the hospital and, because we’re owners, we can better reflect the patients’ financial situation. For many reasons, it’s less expensive to do surgery at a surgery center than a hospital. That’s especially important when you live in one of the most expensive places for healthcare in the country.”
To learn more about Regent Surgical Health and other physician/hospital alliance opportunities contact Don Phalen.