This morning, on the drive into work, I heard a commercial for a local Boulder, Colorado, orthopedic surgeon who took a weekend course on how to use Lipogems and began offering “stem cell therapy” last year. What struck me is not that she is advertising, but the fact that the commercial claimed that she is a “Renowned Regenerative Medicine Expert”? Which brings up a good point for this morning’s blog. What does it take to be a medical expert in a new field? Can anybody who takes a weekend course claim to be one, or is the bar higher than that? Is this an isolated problem, or is it bigger? Let’s explore this a bit further.
What Is a Renowned Regenerative Medicine Expert?
Medical expertise has always been a pretty fixed thing throughout my career. If we look at the definition of “expert” that’s found on Wikipedia, it’s pretty clear:
“An expert is someone who has a prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field…is accorded authority and status by peers or the public in a specific well-distinguished domain. An expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study…by virtue of credential, training, education, profession, publication or experience, to have special knowledge of a subject beyond that of the average person, sufficient that others may officially (and legally) rely upon the individual’s opinion.”
So let’s distill this into some component parts that work in medicine:
- Credential, Training, and Education: Given that orthopedic stem cell therapy is a new field, you can’t yet go to a residency for this subject. We offer a fellowship that’s uniquely focused on regenerative orthopedics, but we only turn out 2–3 physicians a year, and we have never trained this surgeon. You can rest assured she got zero education in stem cells in residency or fellowship and to my knowledge only took a weekend course on the use of a Lipogems kit and how to perform a mini-liposuction.
- Publication. This means that the physician has published extensive, original research in this field. Has this surgeon published anything on the orthopedic use of stem cells? Nope.
- Extensive Experience in a Field of Study. In medicine, this would be a minimum of several-thousand procedures. Given that this physician just began to offer Lipogems a little over a year ago, she definitely wouldn’t qualify here either.
So this Boulder surgeon would fit none of the criteria above to be called an expert. She certainly, therefore, is not a “renowned expert.”
Is Lipogems a Stem Cell Procedure?
This physician’s ad claims that she performs stem cell therapy, and last time I looked, she was using the bedside kit called Lipogems that performs fat processing. Is this a stem cell procedure? Watch my video below:
This Problem Is Not Unique to Surgeons with Egos Bigger than Their CVs
While it would be great if this were the case of a single physician whose ego is writing checks her expertise can’t cash, that’s not accurate. We see this issue all over the Internet, TV, radio, and newspaper. Physicians and chiropractors with no credentials, no publications, and little experience, who take a bad weekend course in how to perform stem cell injection procedures, who claim to be experts.
As an example, I got pinged this weekend by a local emergency-room doctor who wanted to “get into stem cells.” I had to tell him that he didn’t even have the base training to get the additional training he would need to be competent to treat musculoskeletal problems. I’m pretty sure he will ignore me and soon begin offering substandard care.
So now experts are created by marketing campaigns, which is interesting as throughout my career they have been created by things like publications, book chapters, and experience. This trend is disturbing. The problem is that the average consumer has no real way to vet these marketing claims without doing a good deal of homework. How would John Q public know that this surgeon isn’t really a “Renowned Regenerative Medicine Expert”? There is no easy answer to that question.
Are We Renowned Regenerative Medicine Experts?
So let’s apply the same criteria to the Regenexx founders:
- Credential, Training, and Education: While there was no education when we began using stem cells in 2005, we’ve authored numerous book chapters in orthopedic regenerative medicine as well as created an entire standards course in interventional orthopedics using regenerative medicine as part of IOF. We also run a world-class orthopedic regen med fellowship here in Colorado.
- Publication: As of last year, we had published 50% of the world’s orthopedic regenerative medicine research, based on the number of patients published, in bone marrow stem cells. We also actively publish several papers a year in the peer-reviewed journals on original orthopedic regenerative medicine research.
- Extensive Experience: Given that we have treated tens of thousands of orthopedic patients with stem cells over 13 years, we pass this part of the test with flying colors.
Given the test for expertise, Regenexx is a “Renowned Expert” in orthopedic regenerative medicine.
The upshot? This local surgeon is an example of a bigger issue. Expertise in medicine is a fixed thing that takes time and original research to obtain. It can’t be manufactured in a weekend course or claimed in a radio or TV ad!