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Patient-Centric Care: Dr. Amber L. Price

The spine is an important and complex part of the human system, supporting the body and protecting the nervous system. While it’s often taken for granted when functioning normally, any issue, even minor, can greatly disrupt wellbeing and overall quality of life. 

If you’re suffering from a spinal condition, you don’t just need help, you need empathy. To bring you back to 100%, you’d like a doctor who listens, informs, and acts with understanding and sophistication. If you’re in the Colorado and New Mexico area, you have the staff at Spine Colorado.

Dr. Price is one of those professionals. Her work uses dialogue and advanced imagery to create personalized treatment plans for her orthopedic patients. As part of the Spine Colorado team, she combines compassion with cutting-edge to improve both the physical and mental well-being of those suffering from spinal conditions.

From patient to surgeon

A Colorado native, Dr. Price is deeply rooted in the Four Corners area. She grew up in the southwest area of the state near Monta Vista in the San Luis Valley. She also attended college locally at Adams State University.

Her introduction to medicine came at a young age, albeit by unfortunate circumstances. When she was 5, she was seriously injured in an accident involving a riding mower, causing trauma to her legs.

She was transported by helicopter to Children’s Hospital Colorado through their Flight for Life program. At the children’s surgery center, they provided emergency care and set her on the long road to recovery. “I spent several months and years of my life going back and forth, in and out of the hospital,” she says, “I had amazing orthopedic surgeons that reconstructed my legs.”

In addition to top-tier treatment, these medical professionals also gave her back a regular life and the inspiration to pursue her goals. She says, “they allowed me to participate in sports and be active, be the person that I always wanted to be. This inspired me to go into medicine and, in particular, orthopedic surgery.”

After college, she entered medical school, finding her calling in work with the spine through interactions with practicing surgeons. In particular, she deeply appreciated the duality of the field. “I found out that the spine was this beautiful part of surgery, very intricate in some respects. Then, at other times, it was more aggressive with lots of manipulation with screws and rods. Also,a little bit of a puzzle. I felt that this was the way I wanted to go.”

Her decision was sealed after witnessing the power of orthopedic surgery in action. “I had an experience where we had a patient with trauma come in paralyzed from the neck down,” she recalls. “We performed a surgery for him. Two years later, he walked into the clinic and was normal. I felt like that was kind of my calling.”

Providing cutting-edge care

Specializing in both minimally invasive spine surgery and more complex surgical cases, Dr. Price relies heavily on modern surgical navigation in her work with patients. A revolutionary technology, the method uses a single CT scan to create a 3D reconstruction of the body. 

This approach gives greater visibility and control to the surgeon. “It allows us to perform minimally invasive surgeries for patients which can optimize their outcomes and speed up their rehabilitation, but also operate with absolute precision, millimeters away from the spinal cord and vessels,” she says.

Before the advent of modern imaging, spinal surgeries were performed from the back, causing large open wounds and lengthening recovery times. Surgeons tried to approach the spine from the side or the front, but these methods still created large wounds and required unnecessary amounts of radiation exposure to complete. “You still have to put screws in the back to stabilize these types of implants,” she describes, “so we were still having to use a lot of radiation to place them.”

In response, researchers developed the modern surgical navigation platform, known as the intraoperative navigation system. “You are able to percutaneously, through very small incisions, place the screws. This also allows for more risky surgeries that require expert placement of those screws while navigating the vasculature, all while minimizing radiation to the OR staff”, she says. 

This type of navigation can lower surgical time, increase safety, and improve patient outcomes. “Oftentimes, these deformity corrections require 20 or 30 screw placements,” she describes, “the navigation system does one spin and you're allowed to place all the screws with efficiency, accuracy, and decreased radiation to everyone involved.”

Evolving the patient-doctor dynamic

Spine Colorado is known for its patient-centric care, and Dr. Price’s work is no exception. Whatever the situation, she works together with patients to develop treatment plans personalized for them.

A major part of her approach to patient care is the result of a positive shift in the patient-doctor relationship. “Medicine was traditionally a very paternalistic type of field where you went to the doctor, they told you what you had to do, and then you did it. It’s evolved now to be more of a partnership, where once you provide the information to the patient, you discuss it almost like colleagues, and then make a decision together.”

With her, treatment begins with a one-on-one conversation between the patient and the doctor. “One of the beautiful parts about the spine is that you can't just diagnose someone based on an Xray or an MRI. The spine is very tailored to the patient's symptoms and complaints,” she says, “it is almost impossible to diagnose someone just from their imaging, making listening very critical to the outcome of the patient.”

That being said, imagery is still an important piece of the puzzle, providing detailed information to guide the discussion. ”The imaging is critical,” she says, “We can tailor the procedure to the patient's specific anatomy, the patient's complaints, the surgical skill of the surgeon, and what overall will allow the patient to recover in a more efficient and safe manner.”

As these are life-changing procedures, Dr. Price ensures that patients feel like they’re a part of the treatment conversation as well. “I give them the different options, then we discuss the risks and benefits associated with each. Sometimes patients will say, ‘this isn’t affecting me that much. I would rather not pursue surgery,’ and that's okay with me. That’s their determination.”

Restoring confidence with care

In addition to her other work, Dr. Price also specialized in treating adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, a common spinal abnormality affecting around 2-3% of children in the U.S. Occurring during growth spurts, the spine develops a side-to-side curvature and begins growing into an “s” or “c” shape. Although there are theories, it’s not completely known what causes the condition. 

While adolescent idiopathic scoliosis can be mild, the condition has larger impacts on children outside of the physical. “The thing that isn’t fully appreciated is the mental effect it has on patients. They often feel they don't fit in, they look different than their peers. Adolescence is already a hard time for people to go through,” she says, “having this deformity on top of the normal challenges that patients face really affects their mental well-being.”

Like all of her care at Spine Colorado, Dr. Price’s work with scoliosis patients is driven by their needs. “There are different ways to treat adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, anywhere from observation to bracing to surgical intervention,” she says, “and again, that's tailored based on the patient's growth, the magnitude of their curve, and their symptoms.”

In the end, the biggest gift that comes with working with children is improving their quality of life and well-being. “It's really a wonderful thing to perform these surgeries, have the patient stand up, and then look in a mirror and see how straight they are and how they look like their peers. That's some of the most rewarding outcomes that I've ever had,” she says. 

Commitment to patient well-being

At Spine Colorado, Dr. Price combines the best in modern orthopedic surgical techniques with a genuine love for her patients. Whether she’s providing treatment options, treating childhood abnormalities, or performing in the operating room, her work is driven by a love of the transformative power of spine work. 

To deliver patient-centric care, she focuses on the whole person, not just their diagnosis. “It's about treating patients. It's not just a spine on the field; it's a person. They have a family. They have goals and dreams, she says, and “those intricacies follow them into the surgical aspect of treatment.”

But her biggest reward is bonding with patients and watching her work impact their lives. “The journey doesn't end when the surgery is over. It really has just begun,” she says, “you've developed a long-term relationship with that patient, and it is your responsibility to take care of them.”

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