Previous studies have reported what patients value while choosing their surgeon, but there are no studies exploring the patterns of referral to spine surgeons among primary care physicians (PCPs). This study aims to identify any trends in PCPs’ referral to orthopedic surgery versus neurosurgery for spinal pathology.
In total, 450 internal medicine, family medicine, emergency medicine, neurology, and pain management physicians who practice at one of three locations (suburban community hospital, urban academic university hospital, and urban private practice) were asked to participate in the study. Consenting physicians completed our 24-question survey addressing their beliefs according to pathologies, locations of pathologies, and surgical interventions.
Overall, 108 physicians (24%) completed our survey. Fifty-seven physicians (52.8%) felt that neurosurgeons would provide better long-term comprehensive spinal care. Overall, 66.7% of physicians would refer to neurosurgery for cervical spine radiculopathy; 52.8%, to neurosurgery for thoracic spine radiculopathy; and 56.5%, to orthopedics for lumbar spine radiculopathy. Most physicians would refer all spine fractures to orthopedics for treatment except cervical spine fractures (56.5% to neurosurgeons). Most physicians would refer to neurosurgery for extradural tumors (91.7%) and intradural tumors (96.3%). Most would refer to orthopedic surgeons for chronic pain. Finally, physicians would refer to orthopedics for spine fusion (61.1%) and discectomy (58.3%) and to neurosurgery for minimally invasive surgery (59.3%).
Even though both orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons are intensively trained to treat a similar breath of spinal pathology, physicians vary in their referring patterns according to spinal pathology, location of pathology, and intended surgery. Education on the role of spine surgeons among PCPs is essential in ensuring unbiased referral patterns.

Copyright © 2020 by The Korean Orthopaedic Association.