Outgoing North American Spine Society (NASS) president Jeffrey Wang (Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles, USA) talks to Spinal News International about the organisation’s increasing international focus, highlights from the society’s 34th annual meeting (NASS 2019; 25–28 September, Chicago, USA) and the future of robotics in spinal surgery.
As outgoing president of NASS, what have been the main highlights of the year for you?
It has been a great year, very busy. I always encourage people to take a look at all the different things that NASS does, we do so much more than just the annual meeting. And, as president I have got a great appreciation of that. I realise that the meeting has given us credibility as a society within the North American aspect, but internationally it gives us a tremendous amount of credibility, and so we have seen a huge amount of international interest both in our membership and attendees of the meeting. During my year as president, one of my two main focuses was international. At our recent board meeting, we approved a huge infrastructure of NASS international committees and commissions, and a position on the board for that, so that we now have a dedicated area of NASS that is focused on international issues. Patrick Hsieh is the chair of the international committee, and we also have Michael Picariello who is full time with NASS. We are very serious about our international focus and we have got organised on our side because we are getting overwhelming requests, not only to attend meetings, but to collaborate in international courses and meetings, and to help set up research guidelines and journals. There is also demand to set up NASS chapters throughout the world, to help with advocacy in other countries. Next year we are doing our first international meeting—Summer Spine—in Bangkok. There is a huge amount of international collaboration, but at a deep level, not just doing a course at a meeting. We are bringing all of the societies together, and we are developing deep relationships internationally.
What have been your highlights from the 2019 annual meeting?
I changed the meeting this year to make it completely different to how it has been in the past. Previously, programming was created to reflect the ideal makeup of the attendees, with just as many surgeons as nonsurgeons, but now the programme makes sense. If you analyse the programme we have better content for the non-operative specialists. In the past there was a huge amount of tailored content, but it was haphazard throughout the meeting. Now throughout the whole meeting you have enough programming to satisfy. And, the surgical side has just exploded. Right now, we have surgical demonstrations, with expert surgeons performing the surgery, demonstrating it in a way that allows attendees to ask questions. We have a new TED talk-type setup in one of the rooms, plus augmented reality, we are doing a tumour session. The format has changed but we also have all of the great research we usually present.
In this increasingly digital age, why is it still important that attendees come to these meetings?
Nowadays, we have access to so many news stories, but it is filtered and there is an influence from the venue that is releasing it. If you wait for peer-reviewed publication that takes years, and if you are relying on that for information you are years behind. It is better to hear it directly from the experts, and to understand the philosophy. Reading about robotics in isolation is different than when you go and you see the experts demonstrating it. You can understand and get a feel for the philosophy, and that is important for any spine practitioner. What are going to be the biggest developments in spine in the next five to 10 years? I think robotics and navigation. Navigation has been around for a long time, and when it was first introduced lot of us questioned the cost and whether it was worth it. Now, it is really integrated into the mainstream practice and, looking back, we are asking why we did not jump on the bandwagon right away. I wonder if robotics is like that. Robotics is sexy right now, and it is a great marketing tool, but what if you fast forward five years and we are looking back to 2019 and saying that this is the bandwagon we should have jumped on then, just like we did with navigation? We need to take the next step. People know that there is a next step out there and that is why they are so excited.