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