Spine Health

Sending MRIs by Email Can’t Replace Physician Visits

Today, it seems like everything can be done online. Sometimes that’s great: When you need to call a car or book plane tickets, it’s nice to do it from the comfort of your living room. But when it comes to treating back and neck pain, there’s still no substitute for an in-person visit.

Although some practices now offer to review patient MRI scans by email, the neurosurgeons at Goodman Campbell still advise against it. Despite the apparent convenience, sending an MRI by email isn’t always enough to help patients get better.

How an MRI helps make a diagnosis

To understand why an in-person visit is so important, first let’s talk about what an MRI actually is, and how it helps doctors make a diagnosis. As Goodman Campbell’s Dr. John DePowell explained, “An MRI allows us to see different structures in the body in multiple planes. We’re able to see nerves as they pass through the spine canal and head to the extremities. It also gives us a much better, more detailed image of the brain than we get from a CAT scan.” 

Unfortunately, even these detailed images may not reveal what’s actually causing your back and neck pain.

“Someone who’s only reviewing an MRI may not see anything wrong with the scan,” Dr. DePowell said. “When we see someone in person, we’re getting a thorough medical history, and getting to know the patient beyond the scan. We can learn what aggravates the condition, what makes it feel better, how long it’s gone on—the conversation reveals things you simply can’t get with just the picture.” 

Why you should choose a neurosurgeon

Understanding that full picture is a critical component of getting the right treatment for back and neck pain. That’s why it’s important not just to schedule an appointment with a physician; it’s also important to choose the best.

“Neurosurgeons go through a different level of training than orthopedic spinal surgeons,” Dr. DePowell said. “Neurosurgeons start learning about spine pathology from the very beginning of their residency, which marks the start of seven years spent training on how to treat spinal disorders and performing operations.”

Compare that with orthopedic surgeons, who may only spend six months learning about spinal disorders before a year-long fellowship in spinal surgery. In other words, choosing a neurosurgeon over an orthopedic surgeon can be the difference between choosing 60 months of training versus just 18. 

“When a neurosurgeon begins to practice, they’ve had a longer time treating and diagnosing spinal conditions,” Dr. DePowell said. Combining that longer experience with an in-person visit can be a patient’s best bet to not only get the right diagnosis, but the right treatment as well. 

A holistic approach to your pain

At the end of the day, an MRI scan will only reveal so much. That’s why it’s important to choose a practice that sees you as a whole person, with a history and experience to consider in addition to the results of your scan.

“We want to understand as much as we can about a person’s experience in order to help them. It’s important to remember: We’re not just treating a scan,” Dr. DePowell said. “We’re treating a patient.”

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