Doctor Won’t Approve Stem Cells?

By Chris Centeno, MD /

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Doctor Won't Approve Stem Cells

Many patients who we see often seek out the advice of their local orthopedic surgeon or family doctor after learning about stem cells. 11 years ago when we were the first in the US to be doing this work, most physicians didn’t have any opinion on stem cells. That has certainly changed over the years. These days we do hear from some patients that despite most physicians being exposed to stem cells in their national specialty conferences, some doctors still push back when patients tell them about wanting to pursue it for their orthopedic problem. So what can you do if your doctor won’t approve stem cells?

What Your Local Physician Knows about Stem Cells

While you would think that physicians get extensive education about stem cells in medical school, that really doesn’t happen. Stem cells are still new to medical schools and most have just added education in this area to their curricula. Given that it takes about 8 years after college to educate a doctor, you’re simply not going to see many doctors out there that learned about this topic in school.

The biggest exposure most physicians have to stem cells is through their national medical specialty conferences. The good news here is that more and more regenerative medicine is creeping into these events, especially in the areas of orthopedics and cardiology. The one problem here is that some doctors don’t attend these meetings often, so they’re truly in the dark on the subject.

What Some of Our Patients Hear from their Doctors

As I’ve said, when we began this work 11 years ago, we were the only physicians in the US injecting stem cells to treat orthopedic problems like arthritis and degenerative disc disease. At that point, 99.99% of US physicians hadn’t yet heard the term “stem cells” other than passing references to the ongoing embryonic stem cell debate. So most of our patients who told their local doctors what they were doing got a blank stare.

Fast forward to 3-4 years ago and most local physicians asked to provide an opinion on stem cell treatment thought it was voodoo. These days many of those same physicians are offering to treat our patients with a stem cell procedure they picked up in a one day course! How times have changed. However, some patients still experience a situation where their local doctor won’t approve stem cells-meaning he or she is very against that concept. Here are some things patients have posted or sent me on the topic just yesterday:

“So totally agree. I am a very happy patient of your regenerative medicine. I recommend your clinic ALL the time. Unfortunately, we also have a patient base that has been brainwashed to think that surgery is the answer for all that ails them. So sad that we won’t leave the system and invest in ourselves. I don’t need to tell you how much money UHC, BCBS, and State Farm was happy to spend on my knee for traditional therapies and surgeries just to leave me still broken. I spent less than I expected on myself at your clinic. I also didn’t spend weeks in pain, on crutches, in therapy, or at follow up visits. The best thing is I also haven’t been back. Should I have new joint problems you certainly will see me again. Shame on the medical/insurance system for what it is. We all need to remember to think outside the box.”

And this one:

“Do you know that vitamin C…has actually helped with my pain? Not total relief but a help.  Do you know how many providers suggested that? None. My last anesthesiologist suggested a spinal cord stimulator…He thinks I’m crazy for going to you.”

So not only do patients sometimes struggle with stubborn doctors who think it’s still 1990 when they approach patients, but they also struggle with the idea that their insurance company is happy to pay for a huge invasive joint replacement or fusion surgery, but won’t pay for less invasive stem cells.

So How Do You Handle a Doctor who Fighting You on Getting Stem Cells?

Here are the things I would do:bone marrow orthopedic stem cell research

  1. Educate the Doctor about How Much is Published in the National Library of Medicine: Every year I put out an infographic about the number of patients and studies that are found in the US National Library of Medicine that use bone marrow stem cells to treat orthopedic conditions. Send your doctor the link to that page (above or right).
  2. regenexx published researchMake Sure He or She Knows About the Research Our Group Has Published: While our research may not apply if you’re thinking of getting a different and less sophisticated stem cell treatment, if you’ve decided on Regenexx, then make sure your doctor knows that we have published more orthopedic stem cell research based on the number of patient results reported, than any other group world-wide. As of April of last year, that was 51% of the world’s literature. Click above or left for that link.

The upshot? Some patients still find themselves in a situation where their doctor won’t approve stem cells, based more on the physician’s lack of knowledge about this exploding field. I’ve tried to provide some tools you can use to educate the physician, as doctors are bombarded by Internet information given to them by patients. This should convince most doctors. However, like the one patient said above, if your local doctor is still pushing back, you may just have to take the leap without his or her approval. We know that for some patients that can be a scary thing, so we’ll help you through the process!

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10 thoughts on “Doctor Won’t Approve Stem Cells?

  1. Mike Davis, Minnesota

    I was told by two Mayo Clinic Orthopedic surgeons that my only hope for pain free walking was ankle fusion, a horrible surgery with a 12 week recovery period. When I asked about stem cells they told me that was way out in the future sometime. At the time I could’t walk from the gas pump to the counter to pay for it without pain and limping.

    I did some research on the internet and searched PubMed for information where I found many of Dr Centeno’s publications. Today, 2 years after my first SD stem cell treatment with Rejuv Clinic in MN and 4 months after cultured stem cell treatment in the Cayman’s I can walk pain and limp free in a pair of Crocs on flat surfaces and with good boots I can hike for several miles on hiking trails in the hills. Maybe Mayo will catch up with Regenexx some day….I can’t imagine what the insurance companies are waiting for, they could save $millions over the cost of surgeries.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Mike,
      Someday it will be the norm, and medicine will be wondering, “What were we thinking?” For now, it takes being brave enough to think for yourself. Thanks for the wonderful update…so happy to hear you are doing so well!

    2. Christine GradyMiller

      I have contacted Mayo Clinic in the past two months, May 2016, it appears that they are doing stem cell therapy for knee cartilage. Please tell me if I am being misled. I have been in contact with the regenerative medicine department and have had MRI and X-rays sent to them for review to see if I am a good candidate. I have followed your information for over a year now. I contacted a clinic in Chicago which would be closer, it uses Regenexx procedure but it costs $ 8,000 dollars as opposed to $ 6,700 at Mayo. Can you provide me with any feedback?

      1. Regenexx Team Post author

        Christine,
        It’s really a matter of experience, training and the differences in Procedures offered. Even when considering treatment at a Major Medical Center, it’s important for these questions to be answered:http://www.regenexx.com/blog/top-10-questions-orthopedic-stem-cell-providers/ Please see: http://www.regenexx.com/blog/what-is-regenexx-3/ and http://www.regenexx.com/explain-interventional-orthopedics/ and http://www.regenexx.com/blog/let-us-know-think-new-regenexx-difference-video/

  2. John Willson

    Has there been any movement toward getting stem cell treatment paid for by insurance? I would suggest that that is the biggest single reason right now for the widespread ignorance. An analogy: I have hearing loss, and because the hearing aid industry up until very recently has been a cartel and because most insurance does not pay for them, it cost $4000-$10000 to get help. Most average Americans simply can’t afford it. A friend who is having a knee treated with stem cells tells me that it is about $6000. Like hearing aids, most Americans can’t afford it.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      John,
      Not that is evident. Widespread ignorance is certainly a big factor, but there are others less obvious at work. The Insurance Industry’s explanation for not covering stem cell procedures is that they are considered experimental despite research demonstrating otherwise. Towards that end, we continue to add to the 51% of the world’s peer reviewed research on patients who have had bone marrow stem cell procedures we’ve done and published. We’re confident these procedures will eventually be covered, but it just doesn’t look like that will be as quickly as we would all prefer.

  3. Robin

    Realistically (and I won’t hold you to it), when do you foresee insurance companies begin to come around and start covering some of these procedures? three years? five years? I would think that in that time frame there would be a sufficient amount of favorable research on the benefits of orthopedic stem cells that insurance companies will have no choice but to cover these procedures.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Robin,
      Unfortunately, there is no way to tell. There is plenty of favorable research already published; we’ve published 51% of the world’s peer reviewed research on patients who’ve had bone marrow stem cell procedures, and there is a signicicant amount of research published by others. (see infographic in the blog). There are other factors at play. But if a guess be ventured, 10 years seems a more realistic guess than 3 or 5. Hoping to be wrong…

  4. S Pescado

    I found your article so interesting. I am amazed that people needing knee replacements believe they have to consult a traditional doctor or ask permission. They pay for the process and have free choice. We know insurance companies will not cover stem cell for some time.
    Stem cell eliminates many agencies and that is not our health care system. Today people need to take full responsibility for their health. Our health care system is not designed for the
    patient; it is big business.

    I have not said before.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Sal,

      Taking full responsibility for one’s health is definitely important!

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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