Spine centers of excellence: applications for the ambulatory care setting

Evan D. Sheha, Sravisht Iyer


Centers of excellence (COE) are designed to deliver high-quality, cost-effective healthcare by providing specialized and comprehensive multidisciplinary care for a given condition and have become attractive option to both insurers and healthcare providers given their promise of creating value. The criteria that constitute and define a COE may be delineated by a number of entities with a stake in value-based healthcare delivery including professional societies, the federal government, insurers and businesses seeking to control costs while guaranteeing outcomes for their employees. COEs accomplish this goal through a number of means, the first and most essential of which is centralization of organization wherein a variety of specialists are integrated under a single hospital system to improve communication between providers and decrease overall variability of care delivery. In this system, the patient is tracked throughout the entire spectrum of care from diagnosis, through non-operative or surgical intervention, and postoperative care. The centralized model in turn allows for standardization of protocols and multidisciplinary team input which helps to inform case selection, improve patient screening, make treatment more uniform and ultimately allow for dynamic and continual modification of best practices. This model lends itself particularly well to orthopedic subspecialties where patients often require specialized pre-, intra- and post-operative care from a variety of providers. However, despite their apparent benefits, studies evaluating outcomes after implementation of COEs have been less than favorable, and further research is needed in this area to support their widespread adoption. The growth of the ambulatory surgery center in orthopedics provides a new opportunity for the development, evaluation and evolution of spine COEs. Although the direct value of COEs is yet to be firmly established, they provide guidelines for best practices in outpatient spine surgery and a framework for how spine care can be transitioned safely and effectively to the outpatient setting.