Fifteen years after retiring, 70-year-old Gord Taylor suddenly found he was unable to easily do the things he’d grown to love, including gardening and teaching school kids photography at an outdoor camp. “I have never been bored in my 15 or 16 years of retirement. I have to learn how to do them more slowly. Patience has not always been my strength,” says Taylor.

Physical therapist John Murphy examines Gord Taylor.

It came on suddenly in April 2011. Taylor began experiencing back pain he describes as “excruciating” anytime he stood up or walked. His physical therapist prescribed exercises, but the pain only worsened. That’s when the therapist referred Taylor to the Spine Pathway Clinic at Saskatoon City Hospital.

With clinics in Regina and Saskatoon, the Saskatchewan Spine Pathway was officially
unveiled to the public in late June but has been operating since May. The concept of the Spine Pathway is to provide patients with quicker access to surgery if they need it, one of the goals of the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative. However, the concept of surgical pathways is not new to health care in Saskatchewan. A hip and knee pathway has been successfully operating for more than a year with four multidisciplinary clinics located across the province.

The spine pathway helps in the assessment and management of low back pain. Patients who don’t show positive results from existing therapies can be referred by their family doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors or nurse practitioners for further assessment and to help determine whether a surgical consultation is indicated.

The assessment helps reduce wait times for patients who are candidates for surgery, mainly because neurosurgeons or orthopedic surgeons are spending less time with individuals who aren’t good candidates for surgery. For some patients, education regarding their condition and the encouragement to pursue more conservative treatment options is enough to manage their back pain. This reduces the number of
unnecessary and costly MRIs, opening the door for those who need them to
get their appointments sooner.

Neurosurgeon Daryl Fourney has been a champion of the spine pathway since its early days. “Thousands of Canadians suffer from back pain and leg pain. This is unfortunately a common condition,” Fourney told reporters at a news conference in
late June. “And patients often wait an agonizing long time to see a spine surgeon in Canada only to find out, after they’ve had expensive tests like MRI that they don’t need surgery. The system, the way it is, is not working very well. The solution is not to throw more money at the same system, the solution is to come up with a better system. This on a provincial level is a first in Canada.”

Taylor continues gardening and photography from a seated or kneeling position. He has been told surgery will likely help his condition and he is eagerly waiting for the date.

“When I was referred to the pathway, I had a phone call the next day for an appointment here, then within a week I had an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon, my MRI last week and the results are already in the hands of the surgeon. I consider that to be fast service.”