By Felicia Choo, The Straits Times

More elderly patients aged 65 and above with spine conditions are seeking treatment at Changi General Hospital (CGH).

They have been able to recover faster, as well as save time and costs due to an integrated spine service launched in July 2015.

Around 250 age-related spine operations were done at CGH from last year to this year, up from 90 in 2014, the hospital said at a press briefing yesterday.

"Many patients needing spine surgery are elderly and frail... and suffer from falls," said Dr Dinesh Shree Kumar, Director of Spine Surgery at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at CGH.

Certain components of the spine deteriorate with age, resulting in these conditions. For example, vertebrae lose density and become brittle, increasing the risk of fracture. Cartilage covering joints can also deteriorate, causing bone spurs.

Those aged 65 and above make up about half of the average 100 patients with spine problems seen at CGH every week.

The integrated service lets patients consult an orthopaedic doctor and a neurosurgeon specialising in the spine during the same visit.

Previously, patients who needed a neurosurgeon's expertise had to be referred to another hospital, which could take around four to six weeks for non-urgent cases.

Surgery for urgent cases, such as spinal tumours and extensive spinal trauma caused by accidents, can now also be performed within one to two days at CGH using minimally invasive techniques.   Patients could be discharged in two to three days, compared with the one week duration that open surgery requires.

The service also highlighted the need to train doctors in increasingly complex treatment methods for spine conditions, due to advancements in technology.

Dr Shree Kumar said: "Spine surgery is evolving; previously it used to be done by a general orthopaedic surgeon or a general neurosurgeon. But now, the treatment options are more complex.

"There is a requirement for doctors to be trained specifically in dealing with the problems of the spine."

CGH now has one orthopaedic doctor and one neurosurgeon specialising in spine conditions. It aims to train three to four more doctors in the next few years to be able to handle issues related to bone structure - usually under the orthopaedic doctor's care - as well as the nervous system, which is usually handled by the neurosurgeon.