If you recently got out of bed with a nagging lower back pain you are not alone. Back pain affects 80 percent of Americans at some time in their lives due to bad habits, accidents, muscle strains and sports injuries. In most cases, pain medication and staying put provide the necessary relief. But when the pain is sustained and debilitating, a visit to Daveed Frazier, M.D., a specialist in spine surgery, is a viable option to end the suffering.
Dr. Frazier is president of Orthopaedic Associates of New York P.C. As a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon with advanced fellowship training in spinal surgery and correction of spinal deformity, Frazier offers his patients an array of treatment options to relieve pain and correct problems of the back and neck, ranging from a nonsurgical muscle relaxant to surgical disc replacement. He is affiliated with St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in Manhattan and Long Island College Hospital, in Brooklyn.
“I like the instant gratification of surgery,” remarks Frazier. Unlike general practice, a surgeon’s impact on his or her patient’s life is “immediate and direct,” he adds. You either help a person to walk again and return to a more comfortable life or you don’t.
This is not the life that Frazier dreamed of when he was growing up in Dayton, Ohio. Even though he was raised in a medical family (his father was a general practitioner and his mother managed his father’s office), he did not want a life in medicine. Frazier witnessed how demanding the life of a doctor was and yearned for what he thought was the uncomplicated life of a professional photographer. He eventually turned back to the life he tried to avoid, explaining “there is nothing else in the world that is comparable to being responsible for someone’s life.”
Frazier graduated from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in biology and later became a graduate of Harvard Medical School. Today, he is a well-respected lecturer, researcher and published author on spinal disorders and treatment, as well as an assistant clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and an adjunct professor with SUNY Downstate. He has taken on a challenging schedule for a man who once wanted to avoid the demands of medicine. He enjoys the relationship with his students, saying they learn from his experience and knowledge, while he benefits from their curiosity. Teaching also allows him to keep up with developments in his field. “I constantly have to justify what I say because I am in an academic environment,” he says.
Increasing access to health care
Soon after completing his residency in Boston, Frazier got a firsthand look at the importance of access to health care while working for six months on a Native American reservation in New Mexico. There, a high percentage of his surgeries were the result of alcohol-related accidents. Beyond the alarmingly high trauma and mortality rates, Frazier witnessed the dismal health-care circumstances Native Americans faced. “The experience made me value the things that I had and the opportunities that were afforded to me because a lot of people had no options,” he says.
The experience led him to establish the spine clinic at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital almost 12 years ago, where he provides quality back and neck care to individuals who otherwise would not have access to a surgeon with his specialized training. At the clinic, he has seen patients with “horrific” conditions that could have been prevented if they were given access to proper health care.
As much as it is needed, health-care reform is an acrimonious issue in the United States. Last June, the White House released “The Economic Case for Health Care Reform,” a report by the president’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), arguing that “the most visible sign of the need for health-care reform is the 46 million Americans currently without health insurance.” The CEA projects that this number will rise to about 72 million in 2040 without reform.
Frazier is a strong proponent of reform and favors practical improvements to the health-care system. While he agrees that all Americans should be covered, with access to quality care, and that health care should be less expensive, he contends that more discussion is needed around “how the increased access will be funded.” With the current administration tackling war, economic recession, education and other challenges, “pushing policy that is not well thought out” will not provide much-needed solutions, but will only add to the existing dilemma, he says. He hopes for a lasting resolution on reform that includes provision for physicians to practice without fear of frivolous lawsuits or concerns about payment for surgical procedures.
Championing medical innovation
Frazier settled on spine surgery because of its intensity and potential. He was excited to enter a field in which so much was not yet known, but which was poised to change drastically in his lifetime.
“Almost seventy percent of what I do today in surgery I never learned in any of my training,” he remarks. This includes the minimally invasive procedures he offers patients. For example, Frazier is trained in Extreme Lateral Interbody Fusion (XLIF), a surgical procedure that fuses the spine to treat spinal deformities, recurrent lumbar disc herniations and other spinal conditions. XLIF and similar advances in spine surgery allow operations to be performed through very small incisions, using thin instruments instead of the traditional large incision. The result is faster recovery time, minimized tissue damage and, most importantly, less pain.
These and future advances in spinal care come at a cost, Frazier says, explaining that medical technology companies will not invest in new technology and medical research if it is not profitable. For this reason, he is an advocate of a fee-for-service system that allows him to bill insurers separately for each service he provides to patients. Opponents of this system argue that it rewards the overuse and duplication of services, the use of costly specialized services and involvement of multiple physicians in the treatment of individual patients rather than for the prevention of hospitalization or rehospitalization, effective control of chronic conditions, or care coordination. Frazier insists, however, that it is one way to ensure the profitably of new medical technology. A profit potential and vigorous competition among technology companies will spur innovation, he says.
For Frazier, the ability to use technology to positively impact the lives of his patients — from the uninsured to professional athletes and celebrities — is immensely rewarding. Still, his most meaningful contribution to health care may not be his practice as a surgeon, but through his humanitarian work with charities such as FilmAid International, a relief agency that assists displaced people across the globe through the power of film. As a member of FilmAid’s board of directors, for example, he has been able to help raise money to enrich the lives of those living in refugee camps in Africa.
“I may save one life at a time [in my practice], but I can affect an entire community with some of the charities that I am involved with,” he says.