NASS On Spine

November 08, 2016

Q & A With Alok Sharan, MD

1. What is your hometown and where do you currently live?

I currently live in New York City and work in Westchester County, NY.

2. What is your educational background?

I was fortunate to attend Boston University for undergrad and then came home to attend New Jersey Medical School. During my undergraduate years I spent a semester as an intern on Capitol Hill where I was exposed to government. I did my residency training in Albany, NY and my Spine Surgery Fellowship at NYU-HJD. I recently completed a Healthcare Management Degree at Dartmouth – the Masters in Health Care Delivery Science. This is a fairly novel program that combined classes from the Tuck Business School along with classes from The Dartmouth Institute.

3. Tell us a little bit about your practice/specialty.

Currently I serve as the Co-Director of the Westmed Spine Center. Westmed is a very progressive and innovative multispecialty physician practice located in Westchester, NY as well as Fairfield, CT. My practice focuses on Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery as well as Cervical Spine Surgery. Prior to this role I was Chief of the Orthopedic Spine Service at Montefiore Medical Center.

4. How long have you been a NASS member and why did you join?

I have been a member of NASS ever since my fellowship days. My fellowship director (Tom Errico) was a former NASS President and encouraged me to become involved with the group. I think it is critical for providers to be involved in organized medicine to ensure adequate representation of your views.

5. What do you think is the most pressing issue or issues in spine care today?

If you look at health care as an industry it is clear that it is undergoing tremendous turbulence at this time. The move to a value based health care system, in my mind, represents an attempt at making a market correction.
The correction started with the Value 1.0 movement – which was about redefining the goal of our health care system, achieving the greatest health outcomes for the patient at the lowest cost. I think everyone would agree with this goal now. We are currently in the Value 2.0 movement – which is about understanding how to deliver that value in an efficient and effective manner. At the end of this movement some major issues will be settled including how should providers get paid, what should payors be paying for, and more importantly, what do patients want out of the health care system?

6. You’ve written some articles for the NASS membership magazine, SpineLine, this year. What has that experience been like? Have you gotten any feedback from peers?

Writing for SpineLine has been a great experience. I tried to use Atul Gawande’s storytelling format to help explain some higher-level management concepts. After finishing up my Master’s Degree at Dartmouth I realized that there was a lack of discussion of some important management concepts in health care, such as Strategy, Competition, Innovation, etc. As we studied other industries and read case studies about non-health care companies I saw that there were a lot of similarities between what those organizations faced and what challenges we face in health care. There is a lot of uncertainty in health care right now. My goal in writing these articles is to help readers understand how to navigate these uncertainties through the experience of the business community.

7. You recently earned a management degree to go along with your existing medical degrees. Why did you decide to pursue that and how has it benefited you so far?

My management degree has been a game changer for me. I have always had a deep interest in understanding issues at an organizational and system level. As a surgeon in the operating room it was hard for me to put into context how these broader macroeconomic forces are changing health care. The MHCDS degree has given me a framework for understanding these changes and more importantly, is helping me to understand how we, as providers, can successfully navigate these changes.
One example – I recently joined Westmed last year. At Westmed we are currently undergoing a value transformation journey whereby we are establishing Integrated Practice Units (IPUs) based off diseases. This summer we launched our Spine IPU. Doing so required bringing various providers together to function as a team, creating a vision and goal for the group, along with making a clear business case for the IPU. The courses I took in Leadership, Strategy, Finance, and Operations were critical to implementing our IPU.

8. As someone who has attended meetings in the past, why should members attend NASS meetings?

NASS is the largest multi-disciplinary spine organization in the US and perhaps the world. Treating the patient with spinal disorders is challenging and requires the input of many disparate provider groups. NASS has done a tremendous job of bringing together all of these groups and ensuring that our voice is represented at the table. The annual meeting has always been a great way to stay up-to-date with all of these changes.

9. What is your opinion of the way the health care industry is currently covered in the media?

I think the media can do a better job of covering the health care industry. If we think about where value in health care is delivered there is no question that the greatest value is delivered at the patient-provider level. Taking a myelopathic patient from the wheelchair to walking independently or removing a tumor off a patient’s spine may not be as glorious a story as the cost of a pill, but there is no doubt these are activities that provide high value to patients and society. The media tends to sensationalize stories that occur at the fringes of health care and ignore the everyday wins we achieve as providers.

10. What do you do for relaxation in your down time (example: hobbies, sports, travel)?

Right now a lot of my free time is devoted to my kids’ activities, including their soccer and tennis practices. When I do get to escape I enjoy taking my camera and doing photography. Being a history buff I enjoy taking photos of historical buildings and sites. In the summertime I enjoy taking my bike out for a long ride. When the weather is nice I really enjoy going for early morning bike rides to start my day.
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