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Category: News

DISC Spotlight

Dr. Anthony Yeung Presents at 2011 Brain Mapping Conference

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Dr. Christopher Yeung and the Arizona Diamondbacks


Dr. Anthony Yeung Receives 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award

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Dr. Anthony Yeung featured on azfamily.com

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New Back Pain Treatments Shown

The Institute for Minimally Invasive Spine Care (now the Desert Institute for Spine Care) hosted a symposium in Phoenix, where spine surgeon Anthony Yeung performed cutting-edge surgery for 60 doctors from around the world. The event was cosponsored by the International Intradiscal Therapy Society to teach doctors new concepts in the treatment of back pain.

Read the full story at bizjournals.com

Minimally Invasive Spine Care

As published in the Arizona Republic

Two years after an auto accident smashed two discs in her spine, Patti Nellesen, then 51, was still bedridden and sedated around the clock with painkillers. Doctors considered back surgery too risky due to her history of polio and scoliosis.

With her left leg in a brace from the polio and a destabilized right leg from damage to her spine, she faced an uncertain future. Then she was referred to Anthony T. Yeung, a Phoenix orthopedic surgeon.

Yeung specializes in minimally-invasive spinal surgery as an alternative to traditional open-back surgery. He designed the Yeung Endoscopic Spine SurgeryTM (YESS) system that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997.

The outpatient procedure utilizes a small 1/4-inch incision, which causes less tissue destruction, allows for quicker recovery, faster rehabilitation, less time off from work and less pain medicine requirements.

Orthopedic surgeons from around the world travel to his surgical facility at the Arizona Institute for Minimally Invasive Spine Care — a full-service, one-stop spine care facility with a team of medical professionals — to learn the procedure.

“I was told I must live with my pain,” Nellesen said. “But when Dr. Yeung saw me last July, he didn’t see my polio. He saw only my injured back.”

After her discogram showed severe damage to the discs, Yeung scheduled her for endoscopic surgery. However, her insurance company deemed the proposed procedure “experimental” and denied her claim. She opted to forge ahead alone.

After her surgery, she walked out of the outpatient facility a new woman.

“My functionality was improved 110 percent right away,” she said. “Dr. Yeung calls me his ‘miracle babe,’.” she said with a smile. “He’s the miracle. He gave me back my life.”

Yeung has dedicated his innovative medical career to his mother who was left permanently disabled after traditional surgery to repair a disc 30 years ago. He has striven to find a better, less invasive way to get the job done and has performed the minimally invasive surgery on more than 2,000 patients.

Arizona Blue Cross/Blue Shield was the first to cover the endoscopic procedure. However, some insurance companies and physicians trained only in the open surgical technique remain skeptical.

Doctors from around the country who have come to Yeung for their back surgeries have a different point of view.

John Badalamenti, a Wisconsin physician specializing in interventional pain management, turned to Yeung for endoscopic spine surgery after refusing to undergo traditional decompression and fusion for incapacitating back pain. Amazed by the results of his surgery, he has now joined Yeung’s practice in Phoenix.

Badalamenti’s expertise in relieving back pain through non-operative means complements Yeung’s full-service treatment center at the institute.

Dr. Christopher Kauffman, assistant clinical professor of orthopedic spine surgery at the University of California San Diego, also chose Yeung’s endoscopic procedure over traditional surgery. He suffered from an L5/S1 herniated disc that caused severe pain in his back and buttocks.

“Dr. Yeung offered me a chance to preserve normal anatomy,” Kauffman said. “The morning after surgery, my pain was completely gone. Two days after surgery, I was only taking Tylenol for soreness. In traditional surgery, I would have been taking narcotics for four to six weeks with a much longer recovery period.”

Kauffman believes that endoscopic spinal surgery will eventually be more widely accepted.

“While the older spine surgeons are reluctant to learn the new procedure, more and more young physicians are training to do endoscopic spinal surgery in addition to traditional surgery,” he said.

Yeung only has to look at his son Christopher to see the change.

Christopher Yeung is a fellowship-trained spine surgeon who has recently joined the practice. After learning from his father, Christopher now performs endoscopic as well as traditional spinal surgeries.

Former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Bruce Mathison knows first-hand about both. He still remembers the long recovery, intensive therapy, training sessions and painkillers after going under the knife to repair a herniated disc in 1988.

Today, a few months after Christopher Yeung performed endoscopic surgery on recurrent herniation in the same disc, he tells a remarkably different story.

“Thanks to Dr. Yeung, I have no more pain and no scarring,” Mathison said.

“But the best part of all was that I was back on the road at 10:45 a.m., stopped at Cracker Barrel for breakfast, and was out coaching high school football that afternoon,” he said. “I just wish I could have done it the first time around.”

The elder Yeung made an appeal to back pain sufferers.

“I appreciate the people who come to me first before they commit to traditional surgery,” he said. “I want them to know that if their condition can be diagnosed and treated, they have a whole spectrum of options. Then they can decide the best option for themselves.”

Back In Action

From Med Update reproduced with permission.
Copyright © 2001 by Lionheart Ventures, L.L.C.

When Shauna Scrivner herniated her disc last summer while training for a tennis tournament in Flagstaff, doctors told her she had torn her hamstring but that it was probably nothing serious.

“I was hitting with a guy who lives near me who has a very strong stroke, says Ms. Scrivner, a 38-year old Emergency Room nurse in Phoenix. “He returned a shot to me that was cross-court to my left and traveling very fast. I over-extended my backhand to hit the ball and felt an immediate surge of pain down my left leg,” she says.

Her pain became constant and unbearable. She would fall into bed after work and began isolating herself from friends and family. Eventually, doctors found she had ruptured (herniated) two disks in her lower back-the lumbar and sacral discs — and had also torn the outer area around them. Worse, one of the ruptured discs was pressing against a spinal nerve—the sciatic—causing her unbearable leg pain.

She knew she needed surgery but she was extremely wary of it – and rightly so. As an emergency room nurse for 15 years, Ms. Scrivner says she treats one or two people a week with failed back surgery “who go from ER to ER” with their medical records in hand, requesting shots of morphine and other narcotics for their pain. She didn’t want to be such a casualty.  

After consulting with two other orthopedic spine surgeons—who gave her only a 50 percent chance of recovery—Ms. Scrivner was convinced that her only hope of relieving the pain and reclaiming her normal, healthy lifestyle lay in finding an alternative to conventional treatment. Scouring the internet, she found orthopedic spine surgeon Anthony T. Yeung, M.D., who runs the Arizona Institute for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery in Phoenix. (www.sciatica.com). Coincidentally, Ms. Scrivner’s first surgeon had completed a residency under doctor Yeung and also recommended that she see him.

Bucking conventional doctrine, Dr. Yeung has spent much of the last decade pioneering a new approach to back injury called minimally invasive or endoscopic spinal surgery: It’s aim is rapid recovery with as little trauma as possible. “Traditional spinal surgery may cause so much damage to the muscles and ligaments and the delicate nerves that if it does not make you better it can make you much worse,” Dr. Yeung says.

The surgeon says his quest to perfect spinal surgery was inspired by the lifetime of pain his mother has had to endure. It happened over 30 years ago, when Dr. Yeung, then an orthopedic resident, recommended she have spinal surgery for a herniated disc. “The surgery damaged her nerve and there was also so much bone removed that not only did the disc collapse but the spine slipped 50 percent,” Dr. Yeung says. “Not a day goes by when she doesn’t have some kind of discomfort.”

Although endoscopic spine surgery may be difficult to master, according to Dr. Yeung, it’s been well worth it. Rather than cutting through muscle and bone to get to the disc, endoscopic surgeons simply make tiny incisions in the patients’ back. An illuminated and magnified endoscope— a camera-like instrument— is inserted into the spine and projects the spinal structures onto a T.V. screen. (The camera is designed to capture an image of all the structures in the spine that a traditional surgeon sees with a microscope, including the herniated disc.) After the herniation is removed, the hole it has caused is closed using a laser or radiofrequency probe. Patients leave the surgical facility the same day, with nothing but a Band-Aid on their backs to show for it. In Ms. Scrivner’s case, she says she was amazed at how much better she felt immediately following Dr. Yeung’s surgery. The pain in her leg was gone. Three months later, she was walking, lifting light weights and swimming four to five miles a week.

While Parviz Kambin, M.D., fathered the concept of endoscopic spinal surgery in 1973, Dr. Yeung has been refining the technique since Dr. Kambin taught it to him in 1991. Dr. Yeung explained that before the 1990’s, the technology to view the spinal structures clearly was not yet in place. Dr. Yeung helped solve this problem by designing an endoscope with three portal holes instead of one so the spine is easier to visualize. It was approved by the FDA in 1998.

“The endoscope I designed and the complimentary instruments that do the repairs were the breakthroughs needed to advance the technique,” he says.

While Dr. Yeung is further refining the mechanics of his procedure, he also is forging a new body of literature. For example, in a study involving his first 500 patients—published by the Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine in September 2000—he reported an 85 to 90 percent recovery rate among his patients. What’s more, 91 percent of these patients said in a questionnaire that they were satisfied they had undergone minimally-invasive surgery and would recommend it to family and friends. (Dr. Yeung is now awaiting publication of two newer studies, one in Spine and the second in Spine Journal, a new publication of the North American Spine Society.) He has performed more than 1300 operations to date and says his success rates are climbing as his technique improves. What’s more, he says he is able to alleviate pain for degenerative conditions that other surgeons say are inoperable.

“Traditional back surgery is in the dark ages,” the pioneering surgeon argues. “Compare it to athroscopic – minimally invasive – knee surgery. Every professional and recreational athlete has come to expect minimally invasive knee surgery. When their knee injury does not heal, a sports medicine specialist can put an endoscope into the knee, find the problem, and trim it up or repair it so it doesn’t get worse”

In sharp contrast, conventional spinal surgeons will only consider performing disc surgery after a herniated disc is pressing on a nerve and is causing debilitating pain, Dr. Yeung says. “If they bothered to learn endoscopy, they could scope the damage and repair it before the condition advanced,” Dr. Yeung says, (especially since he says the complications with minimally invasive surgery are a miniscule 1 percent.) Another advantage to endoscopy is that since patients are awake, they can help identify the origin of their back pain, which some doctors still insist is “all in their heads.” (Patients undergoing conventional surgery are put to sleep during the operation.).

Regrettably, Dr. Yeung says, many surgeons today do not diagnose back pain correctly either: Even the most sophisticated equipment used by mainstream surgeons—the MRI-often misses tears in the discs, according to Dr. Yeung, whereas an endoscope can detect them.

Despite some opposition from the “old-guard,” Dr. Yeung’s crusade to cure back pain is catching on. This month, for instance, 50 orthopedic surgeons from around the world will gather in his operating room to learn his technique.

And, due in no small part to Dr. Yeung’s scathing protests when insurance companies label the surgery “experimental”, many insurers are now agreeing to pay for it. A major victory for Dr. Yeung is Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arizona’s contract with him to perform the surgery at an agreed-upon price. Other insurers aren’t as progressive. In Ms. Scrivner’s case, two insurance-company physician consultants ruled that her sciatica condition did not require surgery. Dr. Yeung would not back down and a third physician finally approved her claim. Ms. Scrivner says she was very grateful when Dr. Yeung told her he would perform the surgery whether insurance paid for it or not.

To further shield his patients from the medical bureaucracy, Dr.Yeung recently built the Squaw Peak Surgical Facility so he can operate on patients for half of what it would cost them at a nearby hospital.

Minimally invasive spinal surgery is the wave of the future, Dr. Yeung says. Demand for it will increase because the population is aging, and aging— as well as injury— causes spinal abnormalities. He compares the spinal discs to a rubber tire. ” When it ages even the perfect tire may start leaking, the rubber may crack and little tears may develop.” Until endoscopy came along, many patients suffering back pain had little recourse but to “pop Motrin and live with it.” Some went from doctor to doctor because their pain is underestimated and undertreated,” he says. “Now, people are refusing to accept pain that is able to be relieved.”

“Take one of my patients who happens to be a physician,” Dr. Yeung says. “He had terrible bone spurs. His discs were collapsed and bulging. This is considered normal at his age. Many people live with these ailments, because they happen so gradually, the body adjusts.”

“But the doctor was not happy with his life. He had to give up tennis and golf and skiing with his children. He wanted a better quality of life but he did not want surgery. He knew that open back surgery has a 70 to 80 percent success rate. But if it’s not successful, it can make you worse. He decided it was not worth it.”

Then he heard about endoscopy and Dr. Yeung’s surgery. Vive la difference. The doctor is playing tennis—again.

Meanwhile, Dr. Yeung continues to innovate. His new project is an artificial disc, made to support a collapsed disc. And naturally, it will be inserted through an endoscope.

Also joining Dr. Yeung’s specialized spine center in the future will be his son, Christopher. Having finished his orthopedic residency, Christopher Yeung, M.D., will start an orthopedic spine fellowship at The University of Southern California’s Center for Spinal Surgery with Dr. Robert Watkins, an internationally known spine surgeon who has operated on many professional athletes. Afterwards, the junior Dr. Yeung plans to do an extended fellowship with his father before joining his practice.

Dr. Yeung’s daughter, Kim Yeung-Yue, M.D., has accepted a dermatology research fellowship at The University of Texas, Galveston. She is planning to return to Phoenix when she completes her residency.

Valley Doctor Gets FDA Thumbs Up

The Business Journal – March 20, 1998

After Dr. Anthony Yeung performed surgery on Jim Enloe’s back, he noticed that his patient had come to the hospital in a taxi. Knowing Enloe didn’t have a way home, Yeung waited until Enloe recovered from his surgery that night to give him a ride.

“How’s that for special?” said Enloe, a 43-year-old water-well driller. “Can you see tears in my eyes? He had no reason to do that. He’s just a very humane doctor.”

That wasn’t the only time Yeung went out of his way for his patient. Enloe had been fighting his workers’ compensation insurance carrier after herniating a disc on a job in Alaska. He had a couple of back surgeries in Alaska, but two weeks later his back started hurting again.

He had heard about Yeung through one of Yeung’s former patients, and set up an appointment to see the orthopedic surgeon. Yeung looked at his medical record and told Enloe that he could solve his problem by using a new technique, called Yeung Endoscopic Spine Surgery, or YESS.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it for use on Monday (March 16), and Yeung was in New Orleans this week demonstrating it to a group of orthopedic surgeons.

“YESS is a scope system that allows the surgeon to clearly visualize structures in the back, “Yeung said. “Previous systems didn’t have an irrigation system that allowed them to see clearly. Everything was blurred, and there was no way to cauterize and control the bleeding” When people have bad discs in their backs, it starts to bulge out in that area, Yeung said. Usually, a surgeon will tell the patient to exercise, and wait for the disc to dry out over a five year period.

With his new system, Yeung can speed up the process by shrinking the disc before having to wait until the disc herniates and is pressing on nerves. “I have the ability to identify painful discs that aren’t getting better,” Yeung said, “I will shrink it and take the pressure off, and I don’t have to wait until it ruptures before I fix it.”

Like any new procedure, insurance companies are cautious before they begin to pay. The same went for Enloe’s case.

His workers’ compensation insurance carrier ordered an independent medical examination. The examining physician said Yeung’s procedure was too new and not accepted in the community, which was enough for the insurance company to deny coverage, Enloe said.

By then, Yeung was so frustrated by the insurance carrier’s actions that he made arrangements with St. Luke’s Medical Center to perform the procedure if the hospital agreed to accept Enloe’s cash.

“He told me he would waive his fee if necessary, just to get me healed,” Enloe said.

Enloe still is working with his insurance carrier, which most likely will reimburse Yeung and St. Luke’s, as well as pay him back for what he paid the hospital.

Yeung said he is so tired of dealing with insurance companies that he is building his own surgery suite next to his office at 1635 E. Myrtle Ave., Phoenix.

“I decided last year that with this new procedure that I’m doing, I wanted to have the freedom to be able to do that without as many restrictions from managed care,” he said. “With managed care programs, the patient comes to me, they force me to go to their hospital, to their surgery facility — I’m going all over town. When I tell them I’m not able to accept anywhere but St. Luke’s, I spend more time getting the (insurance) plan to approve it than to take care of the patient.”

So now, Yeung is doing it his way. His new 4,000-square-foot surgery center will have two Medicare-certified operating rooms and will be open in April.

It will cost him more than $1 million, but it’s a small price to pay to be free of managed-care’s clutches, he said.

“Managed care is making my practice so inefficient, that if I had my own facility, I would have more freedom to make a deal with the patients — separate from the insurance company,” he said. “And it will be cheap enough so that anybody who needs it could pay for it if they had to.” Yeung said once managed care companies see that his YESS system will cost less and is better for patients, they’ll probably come around.

“I’m tired of it. This is the way I’m drawing my line in the sand, and I’m taking care of my patients,” he said. “My friends still tell me I’m crazy, that the insurance companies are not going to pay me.”

They also call him a dinosaur because he still yearns for the days of traditional indemnity insurance when a doctor received reasonable compensation for his services.

“If I talk the talk, I better walk the walk,” he said. “This is my way of walking the walk.”

Copyright © 1998 The Business Journal Serving Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun
Reprinted with Permission

Orthopedics In China. Wow!

The Chinese Orthopedic Association (COA) wrapped up its third year as an international meeting and is already setting its sights on becoming the AAOS (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons) of Asia, if not the globe.

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Picture of Success: Anthony Yeung

If Anthony Yeung had the time, he would be making “Refuse to fuse” posters and drawing the attention and possible ire of his colleagues at orthopedic and spine meetings around the world. But alas, this out-in-front innovator is busy evolving his endoscopic surgical technique and conducting multiple clinical studies as medical director of the Arizona Institute for Minimally Invasive Spine Care in Phoenix.

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America’s Most Compassionate Doctors – Dr. Field

JSF_Award Dr. Justin Field was recognized as one of America’s Most Compassionate Doctors. This award is based on reviews written by hundreds of thousands of patients.

The Compassionate Doctor certification is part of Patients’ Choice recognition program, where patients rate and vote for their favorite doctors.

While physicians generally receive positive feedback from their patients, only a select few receive praise about the compassion that accompanied thier care. In fact, of the nation’s 720,000 active physcians, less than 3% were accorded this honor by thier patients in 2010.

Congratulations Dr. Field on this outstanding distinction!

100 of the Best Spine Surgeons


Becker’s Orthopedic & Spine Review recently released the annual “100 of the Best Spine Surgeons and Specialists in America” list, and I am pleased to let you know Dr. Anthony Yeung has been included as one of the country’s most prominent and noteworthy spine surgeons.

The Becker’s Orthopedic & Spine Review editorial team selected the surgeons and specialists based on their leadership in prestigious spine organizations, their immense procedural and technological contributions to the field and other notable accomplishments pertaining to spine surgery. The list was created through extensive research and recommendations from around the country before being vetted through some of the most well-respected spine surgeons in America. Physicians do not pay and cannot pay to be selected as a best physician on this list.

The full-length edition of “100 of the Best Spine Surgeons and Specialists in America” can be read here.

Copyright © 1996-2018 by Anthony T. Yeung, M.D., P.C.
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