NASS On Spine

April 04, 2017

Q&A With Eric Buchl, PA-C

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

I grew up outside of St. Paul, MN in a suburb of about 20,000 people. After going to school in Milwaukee, WI, living and practice in Milwaukee then Rochester, MN, I ended up in the Dallas Metroplex. I practice in Dallas and reside in Frisco, Texas, about 20 miles north of Dallas.

2. What is your educational background?

I did my under undergraduate and graduate work at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. I started my undergraduate work in fall of 1996, earned my biomedical science degree in 2000 and graduated with my masters in physician assistant studies in 2001. I spent a year after graduation working in Milwaukee in a general neurology practice before moving to Rochester to work in department of orthopedics at Mayo Clinic. After two years at Mayo I had an opportunity to move to Texas and help expand a spinal deformity practice, so in 2004 I moved to the Dallas area.

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

I've had the ability over the years to shape my practice and specialty, and am in a role that continues to develop and change as health care changes. Currently I work at an approximately 800-bed hospital, where I am the chief physician assistant for the orthopedic, brain and spine service lines, and the supervisor of advance practice provider at the hospital. This role was developed to improve patient care/access to specialty care within the hospital, improve communication with patients, nurses, physicians and streamline care among specialty services. The service lines that utilize advance practice providers have better hospital scores, shorter hospital stays, and early data suggests lower cost of care with equivalent and in some subspecialty’s superior outcomes.

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

I first attended the 2005 NASS Annual Meeting, and my early involvement with NASS was to share the clinical research that I was involved in at the time. As I have progressed though my career I no longer participate in clinical research but I am very involved in best practice of care of the patient with spinal pathology and the utilization of advance practice provides in the care of the patients. For this reason I was asked to join the interdisciplinary spine section in 2015 and recently accepted the chair of the section.

5. You are the new Chair of the Section on Interdisciplinary Spine. What are your goals in this position and what drew you to the Section?

I took over the chair from Greg Whitcomb, I have had the great pleasure of being on the section for the last three years under Greg’s leadership. I have enormous respect for Greg. His passion and vision of the section and its success under his leadership was impressive. Needless to say, I have big shoes to fill. I would like to use this time to thank Greg for all he has done and continues to do for the NASS.

My vision is to continue growing our section, specifically in the education of medical providers on how to create and utilize an interdisciplinary approach to spine care. In many medical organizations, there is still a large disconnect between the surgical and the nonsurgical treatment of spinal patients. If we can slowly bridge that gap and get all of us to the table, we will provide improved care to our patients with spinal conditions.

I also want to elevate the education and knowledge base of the primary spine care provider. So often the first contact for an individual with new spine issues is with a non-spine trained provider. Therefore, to education the non-spine trained provider to empower them to have the skills and confidence to provide evidence based, best practice medical care to the spine patient. As we all are aware, the first contact provider, if appropriately trained, can decrease cost and debility associated with spine conditions.

6. As an physician assistant, you have a unique outlook on NASS. What are the top benefits of being a PA affiliated with NASS?

As a physician assistant and a leader in my organization, the benefits of NASS is the interdisciplinary approach to care of the spine. No one provider can treat all spinal conditions, we need great PCP, PT, DO, surgeons, advance practice providers, nurses and mental health professionals all to come to discuss best practice and work together for the improvement of spine care. NASS is unique in that aspect as all individuals who take care of spinal conditions have a seat at the table and we get to learn from each other. I get to teach a MD how to best utilize advance practice providers in their practice and I learn from the physical therapist or DO a better physical exam techniques. There are countless examples.

7. Social media is becoming more prevalent every day in our world. Do you use social media at all professionally and if so, which platforms do you prefer?

Social media to me is a black box, not a fan, but I am realistic in acknowledging it is how people communicate and get information. In my current role, we don’t use social media as I am hospital based. In past private practice we did utilize social media on a limited basis.

I think the bigger issue is we must do a better job as a profession of self-policing and improve the content of medical information on social media and the web. It is estimated on a web search that approximately 28% of websites have misinformation and 25% are not related to the topic searched. How do we expect individuals to become educated when so much false/misinformation is so easily accessible? “Dr Google” is not the answer for your medical questions.

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

This is a challenging question and not easy to answer. We can all talk about cost, access and other hot topics in health care, however I personally believe as a society we lack responsibility for own health care. In our society, we have choices, we can choose what we eat, if we smoke, if we go for a walk at night or binge watch a TV show. Our society wants the choices but few individuals take responsibility for the choices they make.

I look to the epidemic of obesity in the US as an example, Approximately 35% of adults are obese and 1 in 20 have extreme obesity. This now is affecting our youth with rates that have tripled since the 1970s and 1 in 5 children with obesity today. I agree some have metabolize issues that are not modifiable, although that is the minority. We have the choice of what we eat but when a patient comes in at 40 years of age with back issues (hip, knee, heart, kidney, HTN) due to their obesity we are expected to “fix” them. How do we “fix” individuals who will not take responsibility and “fix” the modifiable factors they have control over. I don’t have the answer; however we need to talk about it and face the hard facts that at some point individuals must take responsibilities ownership of the choices they make.

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

In our current 24-hour news cycle that is about headlines more than substance, I think the media does a poor job on covering on how complex the health care industry is. I don’t think it is from the lack of effort but it's driven by headlines and ratings and no one can become educated about the details of health care without an in-depth dive into the details and that is not how the media works in today’s society. However, lately our local media has done a good job covering some disturbing cases in the Dallas metroplex. I think they presented the information factually and in a responsible manner. I wish national coverage was as detailed orientated.

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

As with most people in our profession, I struggle with work life balance. I am an athlete at heart, and live an active healthy lifestyle. I work out almost daily as my time away from the daily stress, (if anyone wants to go for a run in Orlando let me know.) I race a few marathons and triathlons a year. Travel for leisure when I can, enjoy new experiences and recently got scuba certified and will be going to Dubai this spring to see the city. When I can’t get away from home, I enjoy cooking and a good glass of wine with friends.
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