Care without Compromise
Since opening its doors 10 years ago, Princeton Brain & Spine has evolved into a high-touch, high-tech practice staffed by skilled neurosurgeons focused solely on providing superior care for each patient
by Bill Donahue

It all began with a vision, an idea.

“Ten years ago my goal was to have a practice that was patient centered and patient focused, one that wasn’t caught up with the frenetic times of medicine,” says Mark McLaughlin, M.D., a neurosurgeon and internationally recognized speaker, author and frequent medical media expert for brain and spinal cord injuries. “I saw that people were longing for a practice where they would have a doctor walk into the room and see someone who was not hurried or unfocused, someone who would look them in the eye, listen to them and give them a thorough and complete exam before they made a determination of what’s going on and what needs to be done to help.

“That was my vision, and that was what I believed we needed to do.”

Dr. McLaughlin’s vision provided the building blocks for Princeton Brain & Spine, a specialized medical practice that provides expert care in various areas of medicine relating to the brain and spine. This includes everything from complex spine surgery to the treatment of concussions to relief for chronic back and neck pain.

Princeton Brain & Spine, which recently turned 10 years old, has expanded from one office in Pennsylvania to include New Jersey offices in Flemington, Freehold and Princeton, as well as one in Langhorne. The staff has grown as well, with four highly skilled neurosurgeons—Dr. McLaughlin, as well as Seth S. Joseffer, M.D., FACS; Nirav K. Shah, M.D., FACS; and Matthew Tormenti, M.D.—each of whom has received subspecialty training in specific areas of neurosurgery: trigeminal neuralgia and miscrodiscectomy for Dr. McLaughlin; complex brain tumors for Dr. Joseffer; minimally invasive spine surgery for Dr. Shah; and pituitary tumors and spinal deformities for Dr. Tormenti.

“It’s incredible to me to see where we have come in 10 years,” says Dr. McLaughlin. “It started with me and two employees in a 750-square-foot office in Langhorne, and Dr. Shah came on about six months later. Now we have four surgeons and four 5,000-square-foot offices. Not only are we providing expert care to patients but we’re also helping other people achieve their dreams by giving them professional development. We’ve had three people who have gone from a medical assistant program to nursing school, and we’ve had one medical assistant who has gone on to physician assistant school.”

The practice is rooted in several “mantras” based around a number of core values: compassion, outstanding patient care, professionalism, education, innovation and financial accountability.

“We have a culture here where we all want to make a difference in a patient’s care,” Dr. McLaughlin says. “Everyone here has an important role to play, and whether you’re answering a phone or directing an emergency craniotomy, we all want to be the best at what we do.”

As part of this culture, the entire staff of medical professionals—surgeons, nurses, physician assistants, etc.—participates in daily 5 p.m. conference calls to discuss updates on all hospital patients, as well as coordinate schedules for the following day. They do the same at 9 p.m. every Sunday.

“If you have a tough case, you present it on the call,” Dr. McLaughlin says. “That way you get four doctors on the call and a combined 200 years of experience looking at your case, and this creates a high level of communication and teamwork. It happens every day. No test goes unchecked. No X-ray goes unviewed.”

Similarly, the practice utilizes video conferencing to focus on best practices, elite performance and patient service. Every month, staff members benefit from some degree of cross training or professional development. In one instance, Dr. McLaughlin bought 60 copies of “Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery” by author Henry Marsh to distribute to staff members, simply so everyone could understand the joys and challenges associated with a day in the life of a neurosurgeon.

The Next Chapter
Through Princeton Brain & Spine’s first decade, Dr. McLaughlin led the practice as medical director. In April he appointed Dr. Shah as his successor yet remains “100 percent involved in the organization.” Dr. Shah has embraced useful technology to further improve the patient experience, and he aims to continue to find new ways to revolutionize and modernize the practice.

“It’s fulfilling to hand over the reins to someone like Dr. Shah, who has new ideas and an invigorated plan to take us to the next level,” Dr. McLaughlin says. “We’ll continue to have all the things that make us a practice with old-time values but also have the newest cutting-edge innovations and technologies. Dr. Shah pushed the envelope for a virtual scribe system. When a patient comes in for an office visit, I’m looking the patient in the eyes. I can turn to the scribe and say, ‘This is Mr. Jones, who has a three-year history of facial pain,’ and I’ll go through the exam and the assessment and we’ll have all the necessary data recorded for future use. That way I still get hands-on, face-to-face time with the patient so they feel cared for.

“You can be the greatest doctor in the world, but if you’re not paying attention to someone and looking them in eye so you can say, ‘I understand why your sciatica problem is interfering with your life; let’s figure out what to do to make this better,’ something gets lost. ‘High tech’ without ‘high touch’ doesn’t work. We’re both.”

Princeton Brain & Spine will stop at nothing to provide the highest level of care for patients. This is one reason the practice chose not to participate in third-party insurance in the standard fashion—simply because it “creates a barrier” between the surgeon and the patient, according to Dr. McLaughlin. The doctor-patient relationship is a sacred thing, he believes, and nothing should compromise it.

“I’m incredibly proud of and grateful for what we have accomplished,” Dr. McLaughlin says. “We have some great partners, and everyone here has focused as a team. We have survived and thrived in the current medical environment, and for us to continue to grow despite all the changes in advanced care, that’s a testament to the people here who are giving it their all every day.”

With this kind of expertise and dedication, there’s no telling how much Princeton Brain & Spine will have grown by its 20th anniversary.

Princeton Brain & Spine

Four Area Campuses:
Hunterdon Medical Pavillion (behind CVS Pharmacy)
190 State Hwy. 31, Suite 300B
Flemington, NJ 08822

901 W. Main Street
CentraState Medical Center, Ambulatory Campus, Suite 267
Freehold, NJ  07728

731 Alexander Road, Suite 200
Princeton, NJ 08540

St. Clare Medical Building
1203 Langhorne-Newtown Road, Suite 138
Langhorne, PA 19047

Photograph by Nat Clymer