Greystone Neuroscience Center
About 20 years ago, Thomas Staner, MD, who had been practicing neurosurgery in Birmingham since 1979, began to consider the idea of creating a facility that would house similar specialties. At the time, there were a number of trends occurring, such as the rise in minimally invasive procedures, that decreased the need for inpatient hospitalization in post-operative treatment, which meant that it was no longer imperative for physicians to be based at the hospital.
“Many of our Birmingham hospitals are magnificent,” Staner says, “but such a large facility can present a challenge to a patient, especially when he or she is in severe pain. I wanted to create a more comfortable environment for the patient. There weren’t many examples I could follow in thinking about this concept because at that time there existed very few facilities like I had in mind.”
Staner decided to locate the facility, which he named Greystone Neuroscience Center, on the Highway 280 corridor in north Shelby County. Several colleagues advised against the location, telling Staner that no more than five physicians would be needed in that area over the next 20 years. “Now we have, over the last ten years, a surge of medical developments along Highway 280, perhaps the largest medical growth area in Alabama,” Staner says with a chuckle.
“Our goal was to find a number of people in our field who would service common problems. We wanted to have people who could manage and care for conditions of the brain, the spine, peripheral nerves, muscles, and so forth. First of all, we envisioned a center that would have imaging: MRI scans, Myelograms, CT scans, and ultrasound. We talked to a number of imaging centers before we realized that the most important thing was probably not just the MRI machine, but rather the radiologist, along with the technicians. So we managed to get Dr. Robert Eichelberger, who is extremely well thought of.”
Along with his neurosurgery practice, Alabama Neurosurgeons, Staner wanted Greystone Neuroscience Center to include neurology and orthopedics, which all saw similar, at times overlapping, patients. Greystone Neurology with Hisham Hakim, MD opened a practice in the center, along with Greystone Orthopedics, which includes Dewey Jones III, MD, Dewey Jones IV, MD, and Gaylon Rogers, MD.
Staner also believed that with patients suffering back and neck pain, pain management would be important. With that in mind, The Birmingham Pain Center, headed by Michael Gibson, MD and Nitin Chhabra, MD, joined the facility. “The essential thing about pain management,” Staner says, “is that, if I have a patient who I don’t believe has a surgical problem, the pain management doctors take over the pain control issue, evaluating and monitoring the pain medications and scheduling blocks, as needed.”
Staner believes that with multiple physician practices and an imaging center, it is ethically important to keep financial connections separate. “We decided to not have any direct relationship with the imaging company, so that if we order an MRI, the patient can be comfortable that it’s not something we’re doing because of a business affiliation.”
Housing related specialties in one center has been convenient for patients, who can walk downstairs, rather than driving around town, to have any necessary tests done the same day as their physician appointment. Likewise, the depth of physicians aids in providing care. “If I find that a patient’s problem will not be solved with a neurosurgical answer, I can turn to one of my associates here,” Staner says.
“The ‘all in one convenience’ is especially helpful to patients from out of state,” he says. “We see patients from not only our adjacent states, but sometimes much further. Patients with a Birmingham connection may even be living in another part of the world, and return for what they consider better care. They have confidence that medical care in the United States will be superior to their home country. Of course, sometimes they develop symptoms while visiting, and request immediate evaluation.
“We have a number of patients come to us who have not been able to solve their problem elsewhere and they’ve just about given up. It’s a challenge, but it’s gratifying when we’re able to help them. We want to take enough time to really understand the patient’s problem. We look at the whole picture, putting the patient in a program where all these capabilities are available.”
This approach has worked well at Greystone Neuroscience Center, and in the time since Staner opened, a number of similar facilities have taken hold around the United States, portending what could be a trend in providing patients a convenient and multi-specialty solution.