Patient FAQ's: Spinal Surgery in Germany - SkyGen

Patient FAQ’s: Spinal Surgery in Germany

Here’s what you need to know:

  • SkyGen specialises in organising elective medical travel for Australian, New Zealand, South African & Singaporean patients looking for advanced motion-preserving spine surgery
  • Our German Spine Specialists are highly experienced in motion-preserving spinal surgery and we are their partner agency to support patients from these countries in organising their journey
  • Medical patients from the USA, Canada, UAE and other countries have been travelling to Germany for spine surgery for decades
  • We take care of the small details involved in booking and organising overseas spine surgery
Q1. Why are people from countries with advanced healthcare travelling to Germany for spine surgery?

Germany’s healthcare system is highly respected. Our German Spinal Specialists have performed motion-preserving spine procedures thousands of times before and are experienced in performing surgery on patients with multi-level and complicated cases. They use the very latest generation of spinal implants, some of which (total lumbar facet replacement) are not available in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Singapore. Furthermore, in countries like Australia, we believe Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR) surgery is only recognised by Medicare & Private Health Insurance for 1 spine level per surgery, with many patients having to accept spine fusion at other damaged levels.

Let us provide you with a second (or third) opinion if you’ve been turned down for motion-preserving surgery for the following reasons:
1. You have had previous discectomies and other minimally invasive posterior surgeries
2. You have been told the disc area is too deteriorated
3. You have been told your facet joint degeneration is too severe
4. You require multi-level intervention (2-4 levels)
5. You want to investigate and compare another specialist opinion of your case

Whilst the medical opinion of all surgeons is to be respected, a spinal surgeon can only recommend the best surgery according to their training and experience. All spinal surgeries and motion-preserving implants offered by our German Spine Specialists have been rigorously assessed and approved by the equivalent German Medical Association.

Q2. How experienced are the German Spine Specialists and what is their success rate?

Dr. Bierstedt currently performs approximately 400 spinal surgeries and around 250 Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR) surgeries per year. Dr. Illerhaus performs around 350 spinal surgeries and 200 ADR surgeries per year. Alongside using new-generation M6 and ESP Disc implants, our surgeons understand that selecting suitable ADR candidates is paramount. The German Spine Specialists offer motion preserving ADR & Facet Joint surgeries, traditional spinal fusion and hybrid spine surgeries, so you can rest assured they will always recommend the best option for you according to their expertise. Dr. Guido Ostermann is an expert in minimally invasive and endoscopic interventions for the cervical and lumbar spine. He performs 350 surgeries per year and his patients benefit from small incisions, less blood loss and muscle sparing.

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Q3. What types of spine surgeries do they specialise in?

The German Spine Specialists perform state-of-the-art: Minimally Invasive Disc Surgery, Artificial Disc Replacement (1, 2, 3, 4 level) and Facet Joint Replacement Surgery. They use the very latest generation of implants available today, and stay at the forefront of new spine technologies. They believe surgery can only be pursued once all conservative treatments have been exhausted. Since each of the three ONZ Spine Specialists have different expertise, they are able to collaborate on each patient case to recommend the appropriate approach.

Q4. Which brands/types of spinal implants do the specialists use and why?

When it comes to quality and applicability, not all implant types are appropriate. In fact, there are special criteria unique to each patient that will demand a different approach, eg. your individual pathology or anatomy. Understanding how and why the indications may differ is important and something to discuss with your spine specialist.

Note: The German Spine Specialists are experienced in offering Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR) at up to 3-levels of the lumbar & 4-levels of the cervical spine. They can also offer hybrid solutions combining motion-preserving devices with minimal bone fusion if required. 

Q5. Have the spinal implants been extensively tested and researched?

In Germany, all medical devices (including spinal implants) must undergo extensive scientific and clinical evaluation for before they are implemented for use in routine surgery, which then develops a surgical track record for each implant device. Germany has an extensive track record in using non-fusion technology for over 25 years. The spine specialists only use surgical techniques that have been approved by the German medical authorities and provide an advantage to other, less commonly used methods.

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Q6. What do I need for my spinal surgery assessment?

You are required to fill out our specific Spinal Medical History Form which we will email to you directly. The spinal surgeons require both standing X-Rays (Anterior Posterior, Extension, Flexion) and MRI’s of your spine (preferably taken within the last 6 months). We will need both the images and radiologist reports. You can send these to SkyGen by uploading them to a cloud-based folder (tech-savvy patients) or posting the discs (CDs) to our mailing address via registered post.

We pride ourselves on our full assessment usually taking 4-7 days before we can get back to suitable candidates with a full Surgical Recommendation report once your data has been evaluated.

Q7. How long are the waiting times for spinal surgery once a patient decides to proceed?

We can organise spinal surgery packages (including flights, accommodation etc.) within 2 weeks for urgent cases, however most patients choose to travel in 4-6 weeks, once they have discussed their elective surgery with their personal physician, and cleared pre-travel health tests to check they are fit for surgery. This helpful infographic below shows the process from beginning to end:

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Q8. Can I speak with past patients and my specialist spine surgeon?

Yes. We can provide contact details for previous patients who put their hand up as a reference for future patients. We have patients in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA available. The German Spine Specialists also believe in a personal relationship between the surgeon, the medical travel facilitator (us) and the patient (you) and will always offer to have a telephone consultation with you after we have coordinated your assessment and presented you with your Surgical Recommendation Report.

Q9. Where do I fly to in Germany?

You and your ‘support partner’ (family member or friend) will fly to Dusseldorf International Airport, Dusseldorf, Germany. We hold a strong relationship with our dedicated 24/7 partners at Flight Centre and offer very competitive corporate airfare rates to our patients. At SkyGen, we collaborate with industry leaders for every part of your medical travel experience.

Q10. Where do I stay and how many days are required in Germany?

Day 1 & 2 (Arrival): From the time you arrive you and your support partner will spend approx. 2 nights at the Avantgarde Hotel Hattingen. This has been selected for its convenient location to the ONZ Clinic in Germany.
Day 3-9 (Surgery & Recovery): You and your support partner will be staying at your private hospital room at the awarded Augusta Hospital (Hattingen) or Elisabeth Krankenhaus Hospital (Recklinghausen).
Day 9-16 (Rehabilitation): After your release from hospital you and your support partner will stay at The Courtyard Marriot Hotel. All meals are included. This is right next to the MEDICOS Rehab Centre – our post-surgery rehab facility and the largest of its kind in Europe. Here you will receive daily therapy for the remainder of your stay as prescribed by your spine surgeon.

Q11. What type of rehabilitation program is offered?

Once discharged from hospital, our patients spend 1-2 weeks at Medicos Aufschalke, Europe’s largest spine rehab centre. They stay right next door at the Courtyard Marriott. Every day your spine rehab will likely include:
– Lymphatic massage
– Physiotherapy
– Medical training therapy
– Deep tissue massage
– Electrotherapy
– Wound management
– Ergo therapy
– Chief physician visit
This 1-2 week (case depending) intensive rehab program is designed to give spine patients the best chance for a speedy and full recovery, more-so than if you were just sent home after hospital discharge with instructions to see your local physiotherapist only. All patients are moving confidently again by the time they leave Medicos Aufschalke, and can continue their individual rehab program back in their home country.

Q12. What extra expenses should spinal surgery patients consider?

You will be provided with an inclusive medical package cost from ONZ Germany. The only items not included in this comprehensive package are the return airfares for you and your support partner (if applicable) and the stay at your first hotel prior to surgery. All accommodations, transfers, rehabilitation and more, will be coordinated by your SkyGen client manager prior to your departure.

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Q13. Can I have an active lifestyle and play sport after this type of surgery?

Yes. All patients who undergo motion preserving ADR surgery at the ONZ Centre and rehabilitation at the MEDICOS Rehab Centre can get back to a healthy and active lifestyle. Most patients can drive their motor vehicle 3 weeks after surgery, and can get back to sports such as golf, sailing, horse riding, mountain biking and physical jobs such as construction or labouring after 3 months. The sports doctors and physiotherapists at the MEDICOS Centre will guide you according to your situation. The whole idea of Artificial Disc Replacement or Facet Replacement is to restore natural function and alleviate any stress on neighbouring discs, while heavily reducing the chance for future spine surgery.

Q14. What if something goes wrong after I return home?

This is the main concern voiced by patients considering overseas surgery. Following surgery you will be monitored 24 hours a day for any complications such as infection. You will only be discharged from hospital once you have been given clearance by your surgeon and attending physicians that you are healthy and ready to leave. You will then spend another 7-14 days in rehabilitation at the MEDICOS Rehab Centre. There you will have a team of dedicated professionals and sports doctors working with you every day and monitoring your recovery. Implant migration and failure can occur after you return home, although ONZ confirms this is extremely rate, in 0.4% of cases. Implant migration is monitored by Anterior/Posterior and Lateral X-Rays at 3, 6 and 12 months post-op to be safe.

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Q15. What if my spinal implant does fail or migrate and I require revision surgery after I return home to Australia or New Zealand?

In the extremely rare case of spinal implant failure or migration within 6 months, the spine specialists will offer for the patient to return for revision surgery. The patient must pay their own airfares. According to ONZ Data this is extremely unlikely, and occurs in 0.4% of patients. Any requirement for revision surgery is to be confirmed by the German Spine Specialists after they review your case by assessing all requested diagnostics.

Q16. How much does spine surgery in Germany cost?

As the exclusive representative of the ONZ German Spine Specialists in Australia and New Zealand, we can present their fixed priced packages for international patients.
For motion-preserving interventions, these are:
1 Level: 29,000 EURO
2 Level: 33,000 EURO
3 Level: 37,000 EURO
Note: Hybrid surgeries involving a combination of fusion & motion-preserving device are priced accordingly. Final exact quotations for your specific surgery can be provided after a formal assessment of your case.

These are the same costs paid by all international patients from USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UAE and other countries. These costs include everything from the moment you depart until the time you arrive home (surgeons fees, state-of-the-art spinal implants, hospital fees, 5-Star accommodation, transfers, rehabilitation fees, all meals). The patient can even take a ‘support buddy’ at no extra cost, but they will have to purchase their own return airfare and hotel accommodation while the patient is in hospital prior to discharge to the Courtyard Marriot and MEDICOS Centre.

Q17. Will it be cheaper if I go directly? Why would anyone use a medical travel facilitator?

No. We have been officially engaged to assist all patients travelling from Australia and New Zealand to Germany for spine surgery. The patient pays all fees directly to the hospital and surgeons. Our SkyGen patients enjoy the following benefits:
a) You can call our local numbers in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa at any stage and speak with one of our experienced Client Managers.
b) We coordinate and book every element of your medical travel package to make it as seamless as possible
c) You will always have the added confidence that SkyGen is proudly affiliated with Australasia’s largest Medical Travel Group (CosMediTour Group) with over 200 patients every month. We have the strongest working relationships with our partnered hospitals and will always use this to deliver the best patient experience in every circumstance.

**NEWS UPDATE** Click here to see the recent record-setting reunion of 61 post Artificial Disc Replacement patients who had surgery at ONZ Germany.

*Please read: Although the information provided on this page may describe a particular patient experience and/or outcome, readers must understand that each patient presents with a unique medical history and may be recommended a different treatment/surgery by their surgeon to that described above. Individual results may vary between surgery centre/hospital, surgeon, surgery type and patient. Although SkyGen agrees to share all updates from patients at their request, SkyGen does not endorse any physical activities attempted by patients following surgery which do not follow the explicit instructions provided by their surgeon. SkyGen encourages all patients to discuss the risks of such activities with medical professionals before attempting these themselves.

Written by SkyGen Public Relations

This content is copyright and property of SkyGen Spinal & Orthopaedic. It was written to educate our patients in making informed decisions regarding their own healthcare. SkyGen is Australia's largest international collaboration between world class regenerative medicine clinics and orthopaedic hospitals.