Background: In 2011, Epstein and Hood documented that 17.2% of 274 patients with cervical/lumbar complaints seen in first or second opinion over one year were told they needed "unnecessary" spine surgery (e.g., defined as for pain alone, without neurological deficits, or significant radiographic abnormalities). Subsequently, in 2012 Gamache found that 69 (44.5%) of the 155 second opinion patients seen over a 14-month period were told by outside spine surgeons that they needed surgery; the second opinion surgeon (Gamache) found those operations to be unnecessary. Increasingly, patients, spine surgeons, hospitals, and insurance carriers should not only be questioning whether spinal operations are "unnecessary", but also whether they are "wrong" (e.g., overly extensive, anterior vs. posterior operations), or "right" (appropriate).
Methods: Prospectively, 437 patients with cervical or lumbar complaints were seen in spinal consultation over a 20-month period. Of the 254 (58.1%) patients coming in for first opinions those with surgical vs. non-surgical lesions were identified. Of the 183 (41.9%) patients coming in for second opinions, who were previously told by outside surgeons that they needed spine operations, the second opinion surgeon documented the number of "unnecessary", "wrong", or "right" operations previously recommended.
Results: Surgical pathology was identified in 138 (54.3%) patients presenting for first opinions. For patients seen in second opinion, 111 (60.7%) were told by outside surgeons that they required "unnecessary", 61 (33.3%) the "wrong", or 11 (6%) the "right" operations.
Conclusions: Of 183 second opinions seen over 20 months, the second opinion surgeon documented that previous spine surgeons recommended "unnecessary" (60.7%), the "wrong" (33.3%), or the "right" (6%) operations.
Keywords: First opinions; right; second opinions; spine surgery; unnecessary; wrong.