Utility of Patient-reported Symptoms and Health Conditions for Predicting Surgical Candidacy and Utilization of Surgery via an Outpatient Spine Clinic Nomogram

Zach Pennington, Daniel Lubelski, Joseph Tanenbaum, A. Karim Ahmed, Marissa Rosato, Peter Passias, Daniel M. Sciubba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Study Design:Retrospective cohort.Objective:Identify the nonradiographic predictors of a patient's decision to undergo elective spine surgery.Summary of Background Data:Up to 132 million people seek elective evaluation by spine surgeons annually, though 55%-82% of specialty referrals may be inappropriate. We sought to determine which clinical and psychosocial factors are associated with surgical utilization by patients seeking surgical evaluation for degenerative spine pathologies.Materials and Methods:Consecutive elective outpatient visits seen in a single clinic between May 2016 and April 2017 for degenerative spine pathologies were reviewed. Data were collected on presenting symptoms, baseline medical illness, demographics, and previous spine care. Multivariable logistic regressions were performed to determine which factors were associated with surgical candidacy and surgical utilization.Results:A total of 353 patients were seen during the period reviewed, of which 144 had complete medical records. Our cohort included 90 nonsurgical candidates, 25 surgical candidates who declined surgery, and 29 patients who underwent surgery. In multivariable analysis, factors negatively associated with surgical candidacy were age, a history of smoking, and osteoporosis, where those positively associated with surgical candidacy were reports of spine-specific pain, higher Charlson Comorbidity Index, pain medication use, number of neurological symptoms, and being myelopathic. Factors positively associated with surgical utilization included proportion of all complaints that were neurological in nature, being myelopathic, higher Charlson Comorbidity Index, and report of pain as chronic, whereas being osteoporotic was negatively associated with surgical use. A receiver operating curve constructed for these models produced c-statistics of 0.75 and 0.80, respectively.Conclusions:Our results suggest that the results of standard clinic intake questions, such as review of systems, medical history, and chief complaints, may be predictive of surgical candidacy before evaluation by a surgeon. The present pilot study suggests a preliminary algorithm that can be further validated and expanded upon to help decide on optimal patient referrals to spine surgery specialists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E407-E415
JournalClinical Spine Surgery
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • collective decision making
  • elective spine surgery
  • patient preference
  • surgical candidacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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