Many patients who we see often seek out the advice of their local orthopedic surgeon or family doctor after learning about stem cells. 11 years ago when we were the first in the US to be doing this work, most physicians didn’t have any opinion on stem cells. That has certainly changed over the years. These days we do hear from some patients that despite most physicians being exposed to stem cells in their national specialty conferences, some doctors still push back when patients tell them about wanting to pursue it for their orthopedic problem. So what can you do if your doctor won’t approve stem cells?
While you would think that physicians get extensive education about stem cells in medical school, that really doesn’t happen. Stem cells are still new to medical schools and most have just added education in this area to their curricula. Given that it takes about 8 years after college to educate a doctor, you’re simply not going to see many doctors out there that learned about this topic in school.
The biggest exposure most physicians have to stem cells is through their national medical specialty conferences. The good news here is that more and more regenerative medicine is creeping into these events, especially in the areas of orthopedics and cardiology. The one problem here is that some doctors don’t attend these meetings often, so they’re truly in the dark on the subject.
As I’ve said, when we began this work 11 years ago, we were the only physicians in the US injecting stem cells to treat orthopedic problems like arthritis and degenerative disc disease. At that point, 99.99% of US physicians hadn’t yet heard the term “stem cells” other than passing references to the ongoing embryonic stem cell debate. So most of our patients who told their local doctors what they were doing got a blank stare.
Fast forward to 3-4 years ago and most local physicians asked to provide an opinion on stem cell treatment thought it was voodoo. These days many of those same physicians are offering to treat our patients with a stem cell procedure they picked up in a one day course! How times have changed. However, some patients still experience a situation where their local doctor won’t approve stem cells-meaning he or she is very against that concept. Here are some things patients have posted or sent me on the topic just yesterday:
“So totally agree. I am a very happy patient of your regenerative medicine. I recommend your clinic ALL the time. Unfortunately, we also have a patient base that has been brainwashed to think that surgery is the answer for all that ails them. So sad that we won’t leave the system and invest in ourselves. I don’t need to tell you how much money UHC, BCBS, and State Farm was happy to spend on my knee for traditional therapies and surgeries just to leave me still broken. I spent less than I expected on myself at your clinic. I also didn’t spend weeks in pain, on crutches, in therapy, or at follow up visits. The best thing is I also haven’t been back. Should I have new joint problems you certainly will see me again. Shame on the medical/insurance system for what it is. We all need to remember to think outside the box.”
And this one:
“Do you know that vitamin C…has actually helped with my pain? Not total relief but a help. Do you know how many providers suggested that? None. My last anesthesiologist suggested a spinal cord stimulator…He thinks I’m crazy for going to you.”
So not only do patients sometimes struggle with stubborn doctors who think it’s still 1990 when they approach patients, but they also struggle with the idea that their insurance company is happy to pay for a huge invasive joint replacement or fusion surgery, but won’t pay for less invasive stem cells.
The upshot? Some patients still find themselves in a situation where their doctor won’t approve stem cells, based more on the physician’s lack of knowledge about this exploding field. I’ve tried to provide some tools you can use to educate the physician, as doctors are bombarded by Internet information given to them by patients. This should convince most doctors. However, like the one patient said above, if your local doctor is still pushing back, you may just have to take the leap without his or her approval. We know that for some patients that can be a scary thing, so we’ll help you through the process!
About the Author
Christopher J. Centeno, M.D. is an international expert and specialist in regenerative medicine and the clinical use of mesenchymal stem cells in orthopedics. He is board certified in physical medicine as well as rehabilitation and in pain management through The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.…