By: 25 October 2022
Spine care in focus with Vivek Babaria

Vivek Babaria is board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation and fellowship trained in interventional spine care, sports and regenerative medicine.

DISC Sports & Spine Center has welcomed Vivek as a new physician partner to its talented roster of experts. At the core of his personalised, multidisciplinary approach is a passion to help patients restore function, improve quality of life and maximise performance.


SSN: What drove you to interventional spine medicine as a career?

VB: Back pain is one of the most common reasons people visit the doctor. I love being challenged to find the root cause of a patient’s problem, and also being the person who provides the treatment, which can include interventional procedures when necessary. Interventional spine medicine is engaging and dynamic as the treatment options continue to evolve. Because I also get to do procedures, every day is very dynamic and diverse.


SSN: Congratulations on your recent appointment at DISC. Can you tell us more about your role and how you use a personalised, multidisciplinary approach to help patients restore function, improve quality of life and maximise performance?

VB: Thank you. Working with DISC feels like a life achievement. We complement each other really well because, many times, patients and their surgeons are looking for conservative ways to manage symptoms and restore function. For that, we delve into the patient’s current functional level, try to understand their goals, and provide objective, data-driven treatment plans to reach those goals. Whether it is diet modification, corrective exercises, various types of interventions, regenerative/ orthobiologic treatments or minimally invasive procedures, we want to create the right plan for the right person and for the right diagnosis.


SSN: It is clear that the pandemic has greatly impacted the healthcare industry. What has been the greatest impact for you within the rehabilitation industry?

VB: The inability to examine patients in person prohibited the most important aspect of a visit with me, the physical exam. On the contrary, with virtual visits, more patients have access to me, and I can use virtual telehealth for follow-up visits when necessary. For many patients, saving the drive provides ease and convenience they didn’t have access to prior to the pandemic.


SSN: What’s the best part of your job?

VB: I get to solve problems, provide solutions and offer hope. Patients are looking for options for their ailments and usually get frustrated while trying to navigate the healthcare system. Seeing my patients smile brings me great joy.


SSN: … and the worst?

VB: The worst part of my job is dealing with insurance companies over semantics for authorisations, which results in delayed care, especially when advanced imaging or procedures get denied.


SSN: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

VB: I was able to move back home to Orange County, California, and join a group (DISC) that is trusted by some of the most elite athletes in the country and the world. There is nothing more rewarding than fulfilling your dreams.


SSN: Are you currently involved in any research or working with emerging technologies?

VB: Yes, we are always trying to advance our field. Currently, I am involved in collecting data and contributing to data registries when it comes to the delivery of orthobiologics/regenerative medicine.


SSN: Please can you tell us more about the research and what it could mean to patient experience and outcomes?

VB: For patients that want to explore nonsurgical alternatives for musculoskeletal conditions like osteoarthritis, tendon tears, ligament injuries, plantar fasciitis, etc., we are trying to validate and standardize how regenerative/orthobiologic therapies such as PRP, A2M, mesenchymal cells, etc. can be used for these conditions.

As we collect more data, we will be able to publish more Level I papers to support the use of the nonsurgical treatments. When the AAOS is asking for more lectures on these topics, it’s refreshing to know the momentum and support is picking up.


SSN: Are you planning to attend any orthopaedic or spinal events in the next year?

VB: Yes, I usually try to attend conferences for the North American Spine Society, Spine Intervention Society and Pacific Spine and Pain Society since I have committee positions within these organizations.


SSN: If you weren’t a physician what would you be?

VB: I would be a chef. I love to serve. With food, I would feed your stomach and your soul.


SSN: What would you tell your 21-year-old self?

VB: Learn to manage your time better, because it’s one thing you can’t get back and always want more of.


SSN: If you were Health Minister for the day, what changes would you implement?

VB: I would create an arbitration committee to standardise the utilisation review process for every insurance carrier. I would simplify how people can enrol in healthcare plans and provide information on what they are signing up for. I would study the root cause of defensive medicine practices in the US and find solutions to encourage better medical practices. I would also change the criteria for what a physician needs to put in a SOAP note to change the culture of copy-paste/forward as 50% of notes are auto-generated or populated to fulfil the insurance company’s demands.


SSN: Away from the clinic, what do you do to relax?

VB: I play recreational sports like pick-up basketball, body-surf at the beach, and engage in great conversation with friends and family over a hearty meal.


SSN: How do you think the future looks in the field of rehabilitation? And what are your predictions for 2023 and the next decade?

VB: Physiatry, as a whole, is at a critical juncture. We will need to increase the awareness of our services and how we can integrate into patient care better. Outside of regions where there is a big physiatry presence through residencies or societies, I feel that our physician colleagues do not know what rehab doctors can offer their patients, or when it is an appropriate consultation.

In 2023, there will be a bigger shift for skilled nursing and inpatient rehab services, as well as justifying the length of stay for these patients. In the next decade, as more venture capital and private equity money enter into medicine, a traditional lean business model will change how physicians are utilized in these services. I fear that doctors are trained to be altruistic and blinded by the business of medicine, but in that process, we will continue to lose control of what’s best for the patient. I have faith that we will always put the patient first, and will create synergy in the next 10 years, because if we don’t, patients will suffer.