Neurosurgeon Dr. David Atteberry discusses state-of-the-art spine surgery and shares how he engages with patients and collaborates with physical therapists to deliver compassionate care while achieving strong outcomes.
From the time he was in kindergarten, Dr. Dave Atteberry knew what he wanted to do with his life. Even as a young kid, he wanted to make a difference to correct the health disparities around him – and he thought he could do that by becoming a neurosurgeon.
“I stuck to it,” Atteberry said. “I’ve been doing this now for 14 years, and my passion for learning new things remains as it was so many years ago.”
Dr. Atteberry’s passion for patient-centered care drives him to keep learning and diving into the many mysteries of neuroscience. In this episode of Powering Health and Wellness with RPM Rehab, Dr. Atteberry discusses how he views healthcare as a collaboration of individuals – all working toward one goal.
At the heart of Dr. Atteberry’s work are his interactions with patients. Around the office, he’s known for spending so much time talking and listening with his patients that he’s often late for his next meeting. That’s because he believes that healthcare should revolve around the patient and their goals.
“You want a person to be an active participant in their healthcare,” Dr. Atteberry said. “If it were up to me, I’d make everyone their own healthcare ambassador. You are in charge of your own healthcare.”
The most important thing is to ask the goals of the patient. From there, Dr. Atteberry listens to what treatments and approaches they’ve tried before. Understanding what has and hasn’t worked for patients in the past should guide your care plan.
For Dr. Atteberry, that often means guiding patients away from surgery – despite being a surgeon. He views surgery as the last option, after more conservative measures fail.
“My best patients are the ones that have tried everything else first,” Atteberry said. “I have more patients that I’ve probably helped from giving them advice away from surgery than I have from operating on them.”
Dr. Atteberry understands how ironic that may sound coming from a surgeon. But, it’s because most of the people who come into his office are just looking for someone to carefully listen and give advice. Those that can do that – he believes – are the most successful physicians.
“We only have so much time in our day. We only have so many patients that we will be able to see. Try and maximize the opportunities for the individuals you get to see and give them the best chance of getting good advice.”
Working with Physical Therapists
But patient collaboration is just one element of Dr. Atteberry’s job. As a surgeon, he also works with Physical Therapists to help his patients after their operations.
In his more than a decade of experience, he’s found that this collaboration makes all the difference in reaching optimal patient outcomes.
“I’ve found that through working with good therapists, that they will push people. They will get them better results than I can get them by myself,” Dr. Atteberry said. “It’s a synergy that takes place when you have good surgical technique and good rehab technique.”
In a perfect world, Dr. Atteberry would like to see Physical Therapy implemented from beginning to end of the process. That would include a pre-hab session that would help doctors understand the baseline for the recovery plan.
“On the first visit, let’s see what your range of motion is. Let’s see what you can do. Let’s see how you stand and posture. Let’s see what your gait is like,’” he said.
From there, a better rehabilitation plan can be created. And, oftentimes, Physical Therapists are able to identify the small things that could make all the difference in recovery. By being good observers, they set a better path forward for patients.
“You have to be focused on the little details, because the little details make you the big outcomes.”
Many times the patients who find themselves in Dr. Atteberry’s office are frustrated. They’re in pain, struggling to function and have oftentimes hit dead end after dead end in their recovery process.
But, those same people are the ones who are most grateful for the surgical and therapist collaboration that restores normalcy to their lives.
“I’ve had dozens of patients tell me ‘You’ve changed my life,” Dr. Atteberry said. “That’s a wonderful feeling.”
That moment – when you see a patient go from struggling each day back to functioning how they were meant to be – is what keeps Dr. Atteberry coming back to neurosurgery. It makes him forget any of the other less exciting parts of his job.
“It’s a very special role that you get to play in people’s lives,” he said.
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