In severe spinal cord injuries, higher nerve centers are effectively disconnected from the spinal nerve circuit below the site of injury. The result is chronic paralysis. Electrostimulation of spinal nerves has proven its therapeutic potential in these cases, facilitating voluntary muscle contractions and even helping paralyzed patients to stand.
Spinal cord stimulators are medical devices used to send electrical impulses to the epidural space in the vicinity of the spinal cord by means of wires, called electrodes. The electrical impulses create tingling sensations in the areas felt as painful.
How Much Does a Spinal Cord Stimulator Cost?
In general, the cost of a spinal cord stimulator is covered by health insurance providers, but if you don’t have insurance, you should be prepared to pay anywhere between $31,000 and more than $51,000 out of your pocket. However, insurance companies cover the costs of spinal cord stimulators under certain conditions. For instance, this cost will be covered by some insurance providers only if the conventional treatment didn’t work. As long as it is deemed medically necessary Medicare will pay 80% of the costs.
According to The Journal of Neurosurgery, spinal cord stimulator implantation costs are around $60,000 for Blue Cross Blue Shield clients, while Medicare customers have to pay almost $33,000, with annual fees that are anywhere between $6,000 and $22,000.
The average cost of the unit, together with the implantation would be anywhere between $22,000 and $58,000, says the eOrthoPod.com website.
According to Modern Healthcare, the cost of the spinal cord stimulator itself is around $20,000. There are three manufacturers which produce spinal cord stimulators: St. Jude Medical, Medtronic, and Boston Scientific.
Spinal cord stimulator – how does it work?
Spinal cord stimulators block the transmission of pain to the brain. They send electrical signals of a certain intensity that reach the brain before the pain. In other words, it competes with pain in the brain, so that instead of pain you will feel tingling.
Spinal cord stimulator surgery overview
The procedure has 2 stages: placing the spinal cord stimulator in the epidural area of the spinal cord and placing the pulse generator in the buttock or abdomen. The surgery lasts around 3 to 4 hours.
After the surgery, you will wake up in the recovery room. Your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing will be monitored. Most of the patients are discharged the same day or the next morning. The electric pulse generator will be set before discharge and you will be given certain instructions, which you will have to follow when you get home.
Approximately 10 days after the surgery, you will have to go to the doctor’s office to have your sutures removed. The settings of the electric pulse generator can be adjusted if needed. It is very important to work with your doctor to determine the right medication and to reset your stimulator (if needed).
What are the additional costs?
Every six months you will have to visit your doctor to help you make adjustments and offer you the best pain relief treatment.
In general, this procedure is performed on an outpatient basis, but an overnight hospital stay may be necessary, depending on your circumstances.
Also, you may have to pay for the surgeon and/or anesthetist separately, depending on the billing policy.
Other costs you need to consider are maintenance costs which would be anywhere between $5,500 and more than $11,000. These would include hardware maintenance, the battery which will have to be replaced every three to five years, advanced studies, X-rays, and professional fees.
In order to help you recover after the surgery, your doctor will prescribe medication for a short period of time.
As this type of treatment is performed only at a limited number of hospitals in the United States, you will have to travel to a hospital and budget for the costs related to this travel.
Important things to consider
The effects of spinal cord stimulation depend on the patient, how he understands and follows the doctor’s recommendations, the surgical techniques chosen by the surgeon, and the pre- and post-operative testing. It is very important to know that the stimulation does not cure the pain completely, it only relieves it.
Recent studies on spinal cord stimulation indicate that between 40% and 70% of patients suffering from chronic pain have experienced a significant long-term improvement. Another study shows that in 24% of patients their pain was relieved only by the stimulation itself or supplemented with the administration of analgesics (in certain cases) so that they returned to work and resumed their household chores.
- moving or breaking the neurostimulation system (requires repositioning or changing it);
- lack of response to stimulation;
- infections of the implant.
What does it mean to live with a spinal cord stimulator?
Once the spinal cord stimulator implantation surgery has been done, you are sent home with instructions, with the help of which you can adjust your stimulation, controlling the intensity and duration for each stimulation episode. The doctor can modify your impulse range, amplitude, and frequency in future visits, if necessary.
As in the case of a cardiac patient with a pacemaker, mobile phones, pagers, and microwave devices, will not affect your spinal cord stimulator. Make sure to have the identification card of the implanted stimulator at hand when traveling by plane, as it is detected by the metal detectors at the security control.
To avoid the destruction of the device, it is advisable to avoid the following medical procedures: MRI, ultrasound, defibrillator, cardiac stimulation, and electrocautery. Also, chiropractic manipulation could affect your stimulator. That is why it is best to consult the doctor first.
How can I save money?
There are some hospitals that may offer cash discounts for patients who don’t have health insurance if they pay the bill in full. Ask for more information at the doctor’s office or at the finance department of the hospital.