MARQUETTE - In the last year, people with hand problems in the Upper Peninsula have been able to take advantage of a developing service at Marquette General Hospital: hand surgery and follow-up care.
A staff of five doctors, four physician assistants and three therapists make up Marquette General Hand Surgery and Services, and they've been building patients and community involvement over the last year.
Dr. Clayton Peimer specializes in hand surgery, seeing patients from all over the area since his arrival about 2 years ago at MGHS. He said one thing that has been helpful in increasing awareness of the surgery and therapy services they can offer is a series of monthly hand education topics being presented around the U.P. He and other surgeons are based in Marquette and use the operating suites here, doing a variety of procedures for conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, sports injuries and traumatic injuries, tumors of the hand, congenital deformities and arthritis.
Stephanie Carlson-Ballone, a certified Occupational Therapy Assistant in the hand therapy department at Marquette General Health System, demonstrates a treatment called iontophoresis. It uses the introduction of an anti-inflammatory medicine through the skin using a mild electrical current. (MGHS photo)
"Some days I'm an orthopedic surgeon working on upper limbs, some days I'm a neurosurgeon, or some days a vascular surgeon or even a plastic surgeon," Peimer said.
Doctors and therapists then follow up with patients all over the U.P., by telemedicine appointments or in person.
"I work closely with therapists so we can follow up the case," he said. "For many hand conditions, surgery is just an opportunity. Then they can get started with an appropriate therapy or rehabilitative program."
Dr. Michael Harl, a plastic surgeon who also works with hand patients, said community outreach is a large part of their practice also. He said doctors have been working with industries such as paper mills to offer education on available treatment for work-related injuries or repetitive injuries.
"We're keeping a lot more of the Marquette patients with work-related hand injuries in Marquette now, which I think is a big development," Harl said.
Peimer also said the services have been seeing an increase in cases that previously would have been referred to other Midwestern hospitals.
"We've worked to turn that around so that people can get care here," he said.
Looking ahead, Peimer said he is always looking for ways to improve treatment for patients and keep up with the latest in the specialty.
In fact, he's pioneering some of the most recent improvements in hand surgery, including the use of a less-invasive procedure to treat a tendon inflammation known as trigger finger. Peimer said he's been using the technique for several years, fixing the problem with a tiny incision and local anesthetic in an office setting rather than have the patient go under general anesthesia in an operating room for a large incision in his or her hand.
Along the same lines, Peimer is working on the patent and manufacturing process for a new surgical device that would be used in carpal tunnel surgery to minimize trauma. He also has just finished participating as a local primary investigator for a new injection-type treatment for Dupuytren's disease, an uncommon hand contracture for which the usual current treatment is surgery. The study has taken a decade to complete, and is not yet FDA-approved, but Peimer said he hopes to see that happen in the next few years.
He said his activities in the field provide an added benefit to patients.
"One of the benefits of doing these kind of things, of course, is really being able to keep yourself in the loop," he said.
Harl added the hand care services are arranged so that they are available 24 hours a day.
"There's always someone on call for hand care," he said.
For more information on hand surgery at Marquette General, call 1-800-628-3333. For more information on hand therapy, call the Marquette General Rehabilitation Center at 225-3186 or 1-800-562-9753.