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Kearney Regional Medical Center Earns Blue Distinction® Center+ Designation for Quality and Cost-Efficiency in Spine Surgery

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska has selected Kearney Regional Medical Center as a Blue Distinction Center+ for Spine Surgery, as part of the Blue Distinction Specialty Care program. Blue Distinction Centers are nationally designated health care facilities shown to deliver improved patient safety and better health outcomes, based on objective measures that were developed by Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies with input from the medical community.

Spinal surgeries are among the most common and expensive elective surgeries in the U.S., according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which creates a significant opportunity to improve quality and value within the health care system. For example, there were more than 465,000 spinal fusion operations in the U.S. in 2011, and hospital costs for a fusion procedure average $27,5681 according to AHRQ.

Hospitals designated as Blue Distinction Centers+ for Spine Surgery demonstrate expertise in cervical and lumbar fusion, cervical laminectomy and lumbar laminectomy/discectomy procedures, resulting in fewer patient complications and hospital readmissions compared to other hospitals. Designated hospitals must also maintain national accreditation. In addition to meeting these quality thresholds, facilities designated as Blue Distinction Centers+ are on average 20 percent more cost-efficient in an episode of care compared to other hospitals.

Quality is key: only those facilities that first meet nationally established, objective quality measures will be considered for designation as a Blue Distinction Center+.

Kearney Regional Medical Center is proud to be recognized by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska for meeting the rigorous selection criteria for spine surgery set by the Blue Distinction Specialty Care program.

Since 2006, the Blue Distinction Specialty Care program has helped patients find quality providers for their specialty care needs in the areas of bariatric surgery, cardiac care, complex and rare cancers, knee and hip replacements, maternity care, spine surgery and transplants, while encouraging health care professionals to improve the care they deliver.

“Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska is proud to announce that Kearney Regional Medical Center has been designated a Blue Distinction Center+ for Spine Surgery.  This recognition affirms the high quality and cost-efficient care provided at this facility.  We’re pleased to have this facility as part of our network for our member’s spine surgery needs.”  Deb Esser, MD, Quality Medical Director said.

For more information about the program and for a complete listing of the designated facilities, please visit

Kearney Regional Medical Center Earns Preferred Center Designation for Excellence in Knee and Hip Replacement Surgeries

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska has designated Kearney Regional Medical Center as a Preferred Center for having demonstrated expertise in total knee and total hip replacement surgeries, resulting in fewer patient complications and hospital readmissions.  

Preferred Centers are surgical facilities recognized for high-quality care, including high patient satisfaction, low readmission rates, low infection rates and lower costs. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska will waive deductible and coinsurance amounts for the inpatient facility fees for members of participating plans who have total knee or hip replacement done at one of these hospitals.

“Kearney Regional Medical Center is proud of our orthopedic physicians and the entire team of caregivers who helped us achieve this designation from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska,” said Bill Calhoun, CEO of Kearney Regional Medical Center. “Not only do we provide high-quality care that ensures a great experience and positive health outcomes, our patients benefit from less out of pocket expense at Kearney Regional. In today’s complex healthcare landscape, the affordability of services is a real consideration for patients.”

“We congratulate Kearney Regional Medical Center for being designated as a Preferred Center for Total Knee and Hip Replacement,” Deb Esser, MD, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska Quality Medical Director said. “This designation means our members can select this facility for these orthopedic procedures, confident that it provides the best outcomes at the lowest cost.”

Click to learn more about Preferred Centers and total hip/knee replacement surgery at Kearney Regional Medical Center.

Patient Grateful to be First Case With Mako Robotic-Assisted Surgery System

The latest addition to robotic-assisted surgery made its debut at Kearney Regional Medical Center on Monday.

Bev Muller of Kearney was the first patient at Kearney Regional Medical Center to receive Robotic-Arm Assisted Total Hip Replacement Surgery using the Stryker Mako robot. The surgery was performed by Dr. Ryan DeBlis, a Board-Certified Orthopedic Surgeon at New West Sports Medicine & Orthopedic Surgery.

Muller met Dr. DeBlis on July 17th after being referred by a family physician for total hip surgery. In talking with the surgeon, Muller learned Dr. DeBlis would soon be utilizing this type of robotic-assisted surgery at Kearney Regional Medical Center and insisted on utilizing this technology at her preferred medical care facility.

Muller and her husband, Gordon, had both received care at Kearney Regional Medical Center previously. “There’s a difference between being a medical service facility and (just) a medical facility. What they’ve established there is special. They have the most compassionate staff I’ve ever met—they go the second and third mile for you,” said Muller.

Muller was also familiar with Stryker after researching the company many years ago as a part of a local investment club. The company’s proven track record, coupled with today’s advantages of robotic-assisted surgery versus traditional laparoscopic surgery, appealed greatly to her.

Robotic-arm assisted surgery is a new approach to joint replacement that offers the potential for a higher level of patient-specific implant alignment and positioning. The technology allows surgeons to create a patient-specific 3D plan and perform joint replacement surgery using a surgeon controlled robotic-arm that helps the surgeon execute the procedure with a high degree of accuracy.

Following her surgery on August 12th, Muller was in good spirits and already up and walking with the help of a walker. Muller also sang the praises of her post-operative care team: “I just can’t say enough good things about them.”

For more information about robotic-assisted surgery and Mako total hip and knee surgery technology, visit


Wilkinson Only in Area to Utilize 3D Technology in Total-Knee Replacement Surgeries

Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Chris Wilkinson of Kearney Orthopedic & Sports Medicine, a Division of Kearney Regional Medical Center, is the only practitioner within a 100+ mile radius currently utilizing cutting-edge 3D technology in his total knee replacements.

The technology comes from Boston-based company, Conformis, which has developed patient-specific implants via advanced 3D imaging technology and the latest manufacturing capabilities. The company manufactures each implant based on the patient’s unique size and shape.

Dr. Wilkinson has done about 300 procedures in the last three years utilizing this technology. He says he’s seen a decrease in patients’ post-procedure pain from about 20 percent reporting pain, to about five percent. He believes this is due to the patient-specific design of the product. The Conformis product has only a one-millimeter overhang whereas most “off-the-shelf” products average about a three-millimeter overhang. This extra overhang can cause painful rubbing.

The process for receiving a Conformis-fitted implant starts by receiving a CT scan to create a 3D model of the knee so implants and instrumentation can be designed to fit precisely to the patient’s anatomy. It takes about six weeks for the product be designed, produced and shipped. Dr. Wilkinson noted that off-the-shelf products average about a three-week wait in comparison.

Conformis implants are covered, billed, and coded under most private insurance, as well as Medicare. And because Kearney Regional Medical Center was named a Center of Excellence in 2019 by Blue Cross and Blues Shield, patients may be able to have their deductible and coinsurance waived for total knee replacement surgeries.

The custom-fit knee is shipped to the clinic in a box along with a custom “cutting block” for the surgeon, allowing for ultimate precision and faster recovery. The customized implants are cemented to the patient’s existing bones using a standard polyethylene.

Dr. Wilkinson recalled one patient in his Cambridge clinic that received two total-knee replacements from him—one using a standard implant and one with the Conformis-brand custom implant. Dr. Wilkinson said the patient’s Conformis-brand knee bio-mechanically moved better and had about ten percent more motion. The patient also preferred the Conformis knee.

Not all patients of Wilkinson received the 3D-printed product. Each patient is evaluated based on their own specific needs and preferences. In regards to why the product isn’t being used by other practices outside of Lincoln and Omaha, Wilkinson noted the need for more information about this new technology and the benefits to patients.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, several conditions can cause joint pain and disability and lead patients to consider joint replacement surgery. In many cases, joint pain is caused by damage to the cartilage that lines the ends of the bones (articular cartilage)—either from arthritis, a fracture, or another condition. If nonsurgical treatments like medications, physical therapy, and changes to everyday activities do not relieve your pain and disability, your doctor may recommend total joint replacement.

This story was also featured in the Kearney Hub 

Kearney Regional Attains Blue Distinction Orthopedic Spine Surgery

Kearney Regional Medical Center has been named a Blue Distinction Center® in orthopedic spine surgery by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.  The award is given to medical facilities that demonstrate expertise in delivering quality health care. KRMC is one of only 3 hospitals in Nebraska and the only in Central Nebraska to have received this high honor.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska recognizes select doctors, hospitals and other healthcare facilities as Blue Distinction® for the safe, effective care they provide to their patients. Each must meet a specific set of rigorous standards to receive the Blue Distinction designation.

“Given the news that we were selected to be a Blue Distinction facility is very humbling,” said Dr. David Benavides, Orthopedic Spine Surgeon.  “It is indicative of the commitment this facility has to provide the best of care, particularly to our spine patients.  It is a direct reflection of this hospital’s primary objective of putting patients first and making sure our community is well taken care of.”

“The Acknowledgement will allow KRMC to continue to remain at the forefront of spine surgery innovation focusing on patient outcomes,” added Dr. James Mahalek, Orthopedic Spine Surgeon.  “Patients will have assurance that spine treatments at KRMC will exceed standards of quality that few centers achieve.”

“The selection for Blue Distinction is an honor that reflects all the hard work coming to fruition for this facility,” added Dr. Benavides. “To be recognized by such a well-known and respected insurance company like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska allows KRMC to be able to tell patients that they trust us. We work hard to earn that trust from the patients and to provide the best possible care here in the best and newest facility around.”Blue Distinction Centers for spine surgery are awarded to medical facilities exhibiting a commitment to quality care, resulting in better overall outcomes for patients. These facilities offer experienced, comprehensive inpatient spine surgery services, including discectomy, fusion and decompression procedures. Research confirms that hospitals designated as Blue Distinction Centers for spine surgery have fewer patients with complications and fewer hospital readmissions than non-designated hospitals.

About Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska is a community-based, member-owned health insurance company serving Nebraskans for more than 75 years. BCBSNE is committed to providing stability and security to Nebraska families and is leading the way in supporting patient-focused care. We’re the state’s largest health insurance company, and the only one headquartered in Nebraska. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

About Kearney Regional Medical Center

KRMC is a 93-bed acute care hospital.  Dedicated to improving the health of our patients, Kearney Regional Medical Center delivers expert medical care that is patient-focused and cost-effective. Kearney Regional Medical Center’s state of the art facility offers patients sophisticated diagnostic and therapeutic services covering the spectrum of care.  Kearney Regional is made up of Medical, Surgical, and Intensive Care Beds.  As well as a full suite of Operating Rooms, Interventional Cardiology and Radiology Labs, an Emergency Department, Maternity Care Center, and full Radiology Department for diagnostic services.

The staff at Kearney Regional consists of over 700 talented and compassionate physicians, nurses, clinical, and support staff.