Back and Neck Pain: Second Opinions

Part
01
of three
Part
01

Number of Neck and Back Patients Seeking a Second Opinion

Nearly 1 million (990,040, estimated) back and neck pain patients in the Midwest region of the United States seek spinal surgery-related second opinions. Overall, there are 25 million back and neck patients in the Midwest region, of which 5 million have chronic back pain.

Number of Back and Neck Pain Patients (Midwest)

  • According to the National Health Interview Survey, the incidence of back and neck pain in the United States is highest in the Midwest region (36.6%).
  • The population of the Midwest region is 68,308,749.
  • Therefore, the number of people in the Midwest region with back and neck pain is 25,001,002 (36.6%*68,308,749)

Number of Back and Neck Pain Patients With Chronic Pain (Midwest)

  • According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 20% of acute back pain patients in the United States develop chronic back pain.
  • Assuming that this statistic remains true for all spinal ailments (including neck, middle, and upper back) in the Midwest region, there are 5,000,200 chronic back and neck pain patients in the Midwest region.

Number of Back and Neck Pain Patients Taking Second Opinions (Midwest)

  • According to SpineUniverse’s "Chronic Back Pain in America 2015 Patient Survey", 44% of chronic back pain patients in the United States are recommended to have surgery by their doctors.
  • According to SpineUniverse’s "Chronic Back Pain in America 2015 Patient Survey", the percentage of individuals who seek a second opinion on low back pain surgery in the United States is 45%.
  • Assuming that the aforementioned nationwide statistics also hold true for the Midwest region, the number of individuals taking second opinions for back and neck surgery in the Midwest region is approximately 990,040 (25,001,002*20%*44%*45%).

Research Strategy

As a search through government databases, clinical studies, research reports, industry portals, and expert interviews did not provide the required statistics, we triangulated the number of back and neck pain patients seeking second opinions in the Midwest region.

General Assumptions for Triangulation

The prevalence of back pain in the Midwest is 30.8% (this is large considering the overall prevalence of back and neck pain is 36.6%). Low back pain represents 82% of all back pain doctor visits in the United States. Therefore, a major portion of all back and neck pain cases can be attributed to low back pain, which makes it a good proxy for all back and neck pain related cases.

As the percentage of chronic back pain patients, the percentage of patients recommended surgery, and the percentage of individuals seeking second opinion specific to the Midwest region were not available, we used nationwide statistics to triangulate.

Note

The statistics used for research are older than two years as more recent reports with relevant statistics were not publicly available; we see no apparent reason for the statistics to have changed drastically since 2015.

Part
02
of three
Part
02

Neck and Back Patients Seeking a Second Opinion: Consumer Journey

The consumer journey for neck and back patients seeking second opinions in the U.S. starts with researching hospitals, surgeons, or both, and ends with a second opinion, either supporting the initial recommendation or offering a new perspective. With the deployment of certain online marketing strategies by neck and back medical professionals to attract patients seeking second opinions, it takes the latter minimal time searching for information.

Consumer Journey

  • The consumer journey starts from the moment patients are given treatment options for neck and back diagnoses. Because they need to make informed decisions and feel good about their decisions, patients seek a second opinion.
  • In seeking a second opinion, neck and back patients research either medical centers or surgeons, who are reputable for treating spinal surgery, or both. These patients also choose the provider that makes them comfortable.
  • After making their choice and booking an appointment, patients are encouraged to write down their questions before going for the appointment. This is necessary so that they do not forget to ask pertinent questions during the consultation.
  • During the consultation, previous diagnostic tests for the patients are requested, and as a precaution, the doctor may decide to run further diagnostic tests. All questions are addressed and patients' thoughts around the initial recommendations are presented as well.
  • Afterward, the patients are presented with succinct explanations on their underlying conditions to give a clearer perspective of the basic problem. The result may be that either the second opinion supports the recommendation of the initial doctor, or patients are offered a new perspective.

Reasons They Seek Second Opinion

  • Neck and back patients seek a second opinion most commonly when surgery is necessary. Because some surgical procedures may have a lifelong impact on a patient, many medical experts agree that a second opinion is important when it comes to certain surgeries.
  • Another common reason for second opinions occurs when patients find the first opinion uncomfortable. When patients sense that a doctor does not understand their condition truly, they may consider seeking a second opinion.
  • Where surgery or treatments recommended by a doctor are not effective and patients see no improvement, or their symptoms are worsening, it becomes vital for them to seek a second opinion.
  • When neck and back patients have been informed that there are no more options with treatments to ease the pain, a second opinion becomes essential. Besides, the severe pain becomes so frustrating that continuing on costly treatments that are not working becomes less tolerable.
  • Other health problems coupled with neck and back pain may serve as enough reason for patients to seek a second opinion. For instance, the natural degeneration of bone as a result of aging or diabetics, which may result in poor bone healing, can aggravate the problem.
  • Patients may have concerns about their options with the advent of new, innovative ways to manage the treatment of the spine. A good example is the special program offered by Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Spine Care Second Opinion Program. These concerns may even be associated with cost and history, and therefore, a second opinion for proper education on these concerns may be needed.
  • Another good reason why back-and-neck patients seek a second opinion is that their conditions do not require emergency surgery. If the treatment option given isn't critical or time-sensitive, patients can enjoy the luxury of seeking a second opinion. For emergencies, such as spinal trauma or nerve compression, seeking "a second opinion may do more harm than good."
  • Patients also seek a second opinion because it is within their rights to do so. A patient's doctor should logically support this decision, but where the patient senses hostility or resistance from the former, they are emboldened to express their right and seek a second opinion.
  • Notably, one significant reason why neck and back patients seek a second opinion is for peace of mind.

Sites Visited For Second Opinion

Time Spent Searching For Information

  • The time neck and back patients spend searching for information may not be quantified, because every patient's satisfaction varies from one another. However, the first recommended is to spend time on researching hospitals and surgeons. Some things to look for include the surgeon's length of experience, their surgical routines, and ability to relate to their patients.
  • It is expedient for neck and back patients to search for relevant questions to ask when going for their appointments. Some pertinent questions to ask during a second opinion can be found here.
  • At the point of consultation, doctors may still provide information for their patients to read further and make themselves available to answer any of the patients' questions. This enables patients to make an informed decision concerning any procedures.
  • Experts believe neck and back patients should take their time with their second opinion doctors when seeking information. For Dr. Stephen Dante, "patients make a more informed, more comfortable decision if they feel they don’t have that time constraint or pressure."
  • Although patients are advised to take their time when searching for information, the search may happen swiftly. This is because back-and-neck medical professionals are frequently making use of online consultation and inbound telemarketing as marketing strategies to attract patients seeking second opinions.
  • Simply put, inbound telemarketing is the act of "handling incoming telephone calls—often generated by broadcast advertising, direct mail, or catalogs—and taking orders for a wide range of products." In the case of medical professionals in this regard, the calls are generated by the direct broadcast of conspicuous phone numbers on their websites. Personal phone numbers are also displayed in many instances.
  • Because of these marketing strategies, neck and back patients spend minimal time searching for information as it is within the "click of their fingers."

Research Strategy

The consumer journey for back-and-neck patients seeking second opinions in the U.S. was determined by specifically focusing on the research criteria presented. We determined the reasons they seek a second opinion by using personal and professional opinions given by medical experts. For instance, Dr. Stephen Dante, who has about 30 years of experience in spine-related matters, offered his thoughts from both patient and professional perspectives.

For the common places or mediums patients visit to get a second opinion, we relied on sites offering second opinions to patients suffering from back and neck issues. Some of these sites have patient stories shared by successfully treated back-and-neck patients. The duration of time these patients spend searching for information has also decreased because of marketing strategies employed by spinal medical specialists to attract patients seeking second opinions. Pertinent information can now be accessed by the speed of the Internet.

Part
03
of three
Part
03

Back-and-neck Medical Professionals: Marketing Strategies

Corporate website marketing (online consultation) and inbound telemarketing are two marketing strategies that back-and-neck medical professionals use to market themselves to patients seeking second opinions. One common feature of both strategies is that they are executed online, although inbound telemarketing can extend beyond the online interface if not carried out via Internet call.

Corporate Website Marketing (Online Consultation)

  • Back-and-neck medical professionals make use of online consultation as a marketing strategy to market themselves to patients seeking second opinions. Knowing fully well that many US residents are accustomed to the Internet, an online presence is a germane strategy for these medical professionals to reach out to this specific group of patients.
  • As websites are defined as tools of online marketing used to disseminate information about a product, brand, services or practices to potential customers, many medical professionals, under the clout of corporate institutions, are using corporate websites to reach out to patients seeking second opinions on back-and-neck medical issues.
  • Examples in the above regard include Dr. Peter O'Donnell Jr. of UT Southwestern Medical Center and six doctors of the Memorial Healthcare System (MHS).
  • Using website marketing affords some medical professionals not to even come in physical contact during consultations with patients seeking second opinions. For instance, these patients can get everything done online without leaving their homes. With a $400 fee payable via credit card, patients consulting with Dr. Peter O'Donnell Jr. can get their second opinions on back-and-neck medical issues online in written form.
  • The channel for this type of marketing strategy is digital, and the type of content it uses include videos, images, and slogans like "with a second opinion comes peace of mind." While explanatory videos like that of Dr. Christopher DeMassi are displayed on the MHS website, images reflecting the spinal cord are used by others.
  • Messaging used to attract this specific group of patients is that a second opinion establishes peace of mind. While Gundersen couched it as "with a second opinion comes peace of mind," MHS put it thus "your peace of mind is important."
  • Another messaging similarly used comes in the form of a question, which is "looking for a second opinion?" or 'need a second opinion?' or "sidelined by back or neck pain?"

Inbound Telemarketing

  • One of the marketing strategies that back-and-neck medical professionals use to market themselves to patients seeking second opinions is inbound telemarketing for an appointment. Simply put, inbound telemarketing is the act of "handling incoming telephone calls—often generated by broadcast advertising, direct mail, or catalogs—and taking orders for a wide range of products."
  • In the case of medical professionals in this regard, the calls are generated by the direct broadcast of conspicuous phone numbers on their websites. Personal phone numbers are also displayed in many instances.
  • Medical professionals engage the use of this marketing strategy because there is a sense of privacy when it comes to medical issues. More so, this sense of privacy is backed by the law. Divulging personal medical information on a website by form entries may not be secure in the wake of internet breaches.
  • Telemarketing will encourage the specific group of patients to call medical professionals and book appointments for a second opinion on their back-and-neck medical issues. This marketing strategy gives room for intimate and personal communication, human interaction, and response measurement.
  • The channel for this type of marketing strategy is digital audio, and the type of content they use include audio and images. The latter appears as the commonly-used telephone icon, while the former is the sound reproduction of human interaction over the phone.
  • Messaging used to attract this specific group of patients is the call to ask a question and book or request an appointment.

Research Strategy

The two marketing strategies in the above findings were identified by highlighting the various marketing methodologies employed by back-and-neck medical professionals to market themselves to patients seeking second opinions. These marketing methodologies were captured primarily from medical platforms, like UT Southwestern Medical Center, Memorial Healthcare System, and Gundersen Health System, offering second opinions to this specific group of patients.

A common feature of these two strategies is that they are both executed online, although inbound telemarketing can extend beyond the online interface if not carried out via Internet call.
Sources
Sources

From Part 03
Quotes
  • "with a second opinion comes peace of mind."
  • "sidelined by back or neck pain?"
Quotes
  • "what to expect at your visit"
Quotes
  • "your peace of mind is important."
  • "looking for a second opinion?"
  • "back surgery at Memorial transforms Ariyan’s life"
  • "MD explains how herniated discs affect patients,"
Quotes
  • "involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services."