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D-H Wins Award for Spine Research

Lebanon — A team of Dartmouth-Hitchcock employees, including the health system’s CEO, has received the top honor in orthopaedics for a landmark clinical trial that studies the effectiveness of the most common spine surgeries, according to a news release.

The award announced in New Orleans on Wednesday went to the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial, now in its 15th year, which looks at the efficacy of spine surgery over non-operative treatment for the most common causes of low back pain, according to the release from Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

The study showed that surgery is “clearly effective,” particularly in patients with spinal stenosis or spondylolisthesis.

Additionally, patients with herniated discs felt relief “much more quickly” after surgery, but patients who used non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy reported almost equal results in pain, functionality and satisfaction with their decisions two years out.

Thirty percent of patients at the eight-year follow-up who had non-operative treatment continued to be satisfied with their choice.

The study also included a shared decision making process, in which about 2,500 patient participants were given “evidence-based information about the procedure being considered and its risks and benefits, so they could make an informed choice of their treatment,” according to the release.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO Jim Weinstein, a spine surgeon and the study’s principal investigator, said “the bottom line is that there are genuine options for patients contemplating surgery and the choice should be theirs.”

Weinstein has been working with D-H physicians, researchers, patient coordinators and analysts to conduct the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“As a surgeon who thinks we do too much spine surgery, it was very important to me to know that these procedures ... were safe and effective,” Weinstein said in a statement. “We now know that the surgeries do make a significant positive difference for patients, but we also know that patients who choose not to have surgery do fine, and in some cases, just as well as those who have the surgery.”

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons presents the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation’s Clinical Research Award annually.

“This is an incredible honor,” Weinstein said in a statement. “In selecting (the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial), the Foundation has recognized the great work of my colleagues here at D-H and 12 other participating centers across the country, as well as the contributions of the thousands of patients who agreed to be part of the trial.”