One in four adults in the U.S. say they suffered a day-long bout of pain in the past month, and one in 10 say the pain lasted a year or more, reports the Centers for Disease Control.
Mary Jane Cox has lived those statistics. A retired registered nurse, she suffered from chronic back pain for nearly ten years, seeking relief from epidural injections, and when those failed, prescription pain medications, which she hated. “I had no life,” she said.
Mary Jane feels fortunate that she discovered the Intermountain Southwest Spine & Pain Center. The center has recently been distinguished as a Blue Distinction program, a designation awarded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.
According to Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Blue Distinction was designed to help consumers and their physicians find the best medical facilities for specialty care. Blue Distinction recognizes facilities that meet objective, evidence-based clinical quality standards. Designation is based on rigorous criteria established by expert physicians and recommendations from national healthcare organizations.
One measure used is patient outcomes — the success rate for patients like Mary Jane, who underwent surgery to fuse vertebrae and remove parts of bone. After years of different doctors and treatments, she knew immediately she had come to the right place for her surgery when she arrived at Southwest Spine & Pain and met spine surgeon Dr. Michael Major. “The minute Dr. Major walked in the room, my daughter and I both felt good,” she said.
That feeling of being in good hands was no coincidence. According to Laurie Johnson RN, MN, program specialist, “Our goal is to make each patient feel like they are being carried through the process. We have created a pathway from the first visit all the way through rehab so that the staff members all speak the same language and each patient has been fully educated and has correct expectations.”
“When the hospital administration originally conceived of the Spine & Pain Center, they wanted an interdisciplinary team that included neurosciences, pain services, orthopedic spine specialists, psychiatry, physical therapy, and imaging in one program,” explained Dr. Major. “The pieces are now in place.” He also recognized the contributions of Dr. Gary Snook, a spine surgeon, who has supported the community spine surgery needs for many years.
Besides coordinating all aspects of patient care, the Center also uses an innovative program to track outcomes. “We report those outcomes to ourselves and anyone else who is interested. It’s something we do proactively because constant evaluation and response leads to better care,” said Dr. Major.
“We have developed a model of care that meets the needs of each patient, including, but not limited to surgery,” said Dr. Jon Obray, pain management physician. “Working in the same clinic with shoulder-to-shoulder proximity has helped us develop collaborative care models. When you look at spine cases, the primary complaint is pain. The two disciplines — spine surgery and pain management — are a good fit, but often are not integrated. Here we work together to make sure that patient care matches patient needs.”
“For many years, southern Utah was served by visiting spine surgeons who would come into town for a day or two, operate, and then leave,” said Dr. Major. “Patients had a long-distance relationship with their doctor.” Now Southwest Spine & Pain serves patients in both St. George and Cedar City.
“It is an exciting development for southern Utah to have these services available here,” said Dr. Obray. “When you are hurting, the last thing you want to do is get into the car and drive for four hours.”
Dr. Major is “very pleased to receive the Blue Distinction award because it recognizes the hard work of a number of people. It says that what we’ve tried to do is actually working.”
The real measure of success comes when patients’ lives are better. “I feel like I’m in a very good place,” said Mary Jane. “I can do everything I want to do. Not being in pain is the biggest treat of all.”