Since January of 2015, Pelham surgeon Dr. John Song has been performing Direct Anterior Approach hip replacement surgeries at the Welland Hospital. Though it has been slow to catch on in Canada, this minimally invasive alternative to conventional methods has been impressing doctors and patients alike by drastically decreasing recovery times while increasing patient comfort.
The traditional method requires doctors to cut through large muscles on the side of the body, and then repair them after the hip has been replaced. While that method is still very successful, there is a period of time when those damaged muscles need to heal, inhibiting a patient’s ability to walk and increasing the intensity and duration of rehab.
With the Anterior approach, doctors go between these large muscles instead of going through them, resulting in significantly less damage.
“The location of the incision makes a big difference,” said Dr. Song. “Placing the incision over the front of the hip is a way to avoid cutting those big muscles that are essential to help you walk- the muscles that are preserved are what makes the procedure so much better.”
Anterior approach patients are able to walk almost immediately, with a reduced risk of dislocation as the undamaged muscles help hold the new hip in place. Hospital stays also become much shorter; patients in Welland are discharged the next day.
“Progress in the first few weeks is quite rapid,” Noted Dr. Song
In spite of the many obvious benefits, the Welland Hospital remains one of three facilities in the province offering the Anterior approach method, and Dr. Song is one of only five doctors who routinely perform the surgery.
“It requires an investment of time and effort to learn the procedure, and to practice it and get good at it,” said Dr. Song. “Then your institution needs to support it by supplying the equipment.”
As a result, most hospitals and surgeons have not adopted the Anterior approach, reasoning that traditional methods remain very successful, and that though there is a major difference in short term recovery metrics these differences are minimal by the one-year mark
But for Dr. Song and the Welland Hospital, the benefits to patients outweigh the obstacles.
“I enjoy it and I am very impressed with how quickly patients get better, and they are very happy when they can compare themselves to friends who have had it the other way. It’s quite impressive.”
The success of the newly adopted technique is a welcome bright spot for the Welland Hospital, which is frequently the subject of amalgamation and closure talks, in spite of offering provincially recognized care and service.
“The standard is tremendous, and I think the people sometimes forget that,” said Dr. Song. “We’re a great hospital. We perform really well compared to the other hospitals here. Patients should feel completely comfortable that the care they are receiving at the Welland Hospital is as good as anywhere in Ontario.”
And in the case of hip replacement surgeries, it’s arguably doing much better.