By: 21 July 2020
Surgeon in Focus – Dr Derek Ochiai

Derek Ochiai, MD, fAAOS is a board certified orthopaedic surgeon in Arlington, VA. He practices at the Nirschl Orthopaedic Clinic. He is fellowship trained in sports medicine and he is a frequent lecturer and instructor of hip arthroscopy for Arthroscopy Association of North America and ISHA-The Hip Preservation Society.  


Q: As a leading orthopaedic surgeon, could you tell us more about your experience and training background in this field?

A: I’m a proud graduate of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. After orthopaedic residency at Albany Medical Center, I completed my sports medicine fellowship at Nirschl Orthopaedic Center, and I have been lucky enough to be practicing at Nirschl for the past 14 years. I was initially trained as a sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon, and I still treat sports injuries. However, most of my professional time is now dedicated to arthroscopic hip surgery and hip preservation. My patients run the gamut, from professional athletes to weekend warriors.


Q: What drove you to choose surgery as a career – and sports medicine in particular?

A: In what seems like another life, I was on the USA Karate Team, and I got to travel the world competing. I sustained a serious knee injury, requiring surgery and a lot of rehabilitation. After recovery, I became a two-time USA national champion. This experience made me want to help other athletes recover from orthopaedic injuries and get back to the sports they love.


Q: How has your job changed with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic?

A: We had a shutdown of elective surgeries for six weeks. While sports medicine surgeries are important, they can usually be delayed. The only surgeries I performed were for conditions that if surgery was not promptly performed, then the long-term outcome would be suboptimal (such as a patellar tendon rupture). Our clinic remained open, but any patient that could be seen via video assisted telehealth was seen virtually.

Now, we are doing elective surgeries. All patients are tested for coronavirus prior to surgery. We have reconfigured our waiting room to enhance social distancing, and we limit the amount of time patients are in the waiting room (for instance, having them wait in their car instead of in the office prior to appointment).


Q: Do you think it is safe to reschedule surgeries now? How different will they look?

A: Yes, it’s generally safe. In my opinion, unless it is an emergency surgery, patients should be coronavirus free prior to surgery. Our surgical times are longer, since more precautions for intubation and extubation are necessary to limit any potential exposure.


Q: What are your thoughts on conducting telemedicine communications with patients?

A: I think there are some specialties that are especially suited for telemedicine; however, telemedicine is challenging for sports medicine. Getting a history of the injury is easy, but physical examination is difficult. I created a YouTube video that all my hip injury patients watch prior to their initial telehealth visit, so they can learn maneouvers that I will them ask them to perform during our visit, which helps.

Telehealth visits are actually GREAT for MRI reviews. I can share my screen, and the patient and I can easily go over specific images, and this is actually easier to see than if the patient and I were in the office looking at our screen together.


Q: Should this continue where possible?

A: Increased use of telehealth should continue. It is easier and more convenient for patients for some issues. I hope that our health systems continue to encourage this form of patient care.


Q: How has Covid-19 changed the way we see our doctors?

A: I think that with the media coverage of physicians falling ill to COVID-19 has made some patients more aware of the risks that some doctors take to care for their patients.


Q: In your opinion, what are the main do’s and don’ts for people as the world begins to open everything back up again?

A: Be flexible. Having a set timeline for phases of reopening is irrational. We all have to use the epidemiological and scientific data (which is constantly evolving) to best battle this virus. The overall health of the public should be always the primary concern.


Q: If you were Health Minister for the day what changes would you implement?

A: I would pay for Public Service Announcements visually showing the devastation that can be caused by COVID-19 and that mask wearing is effective and safe as a weapon against the spread of coronavirus.


Q: How do you think the future looks in the field of orthopaedic surgery?

A: The future is bright. Our field is attracting more diverse, brilliant, highly qualified applicants. Technological advances are astounding, allowing us to better treat our patients. Our understanding of rehabilitation (either in lieu of surgery or after surgery) allows our patient to recover faster and perhaps avoid future injuries.


For more details about Derek Ochiai and his practice, please visit:

Twitter: @DrDerekOchiai