Protecting athletic trainers and team doctors when working with teams in another state

I have always believed that the care of athletes is a team effort, with athletic trainers, physical therapists, team physicians and others working together to provide the best care to young athletes. New legislation aims to better protect these medical professionals when they travel across state lines with teams. This bill is critical not only for the team doctors, but it is perhaps even more important for the athletic trainers who work closely with those athletes. Since March is National Athletic Training Month, I thought I would highlight the importance of this legislation to athletic trainers and other sports medicine professionals for my latest newspaper column.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently took a major step to ensuring athletes have access to the best medical care when traveling to compete.

The Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act (H.R. 302) aims to protect medical professionals who work in sports medicine – doctors, athletic trainers and physical therapists – who travel to work with high school, college and professional teams.

The Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act

Introduced by Representatives Brett Guthrie of Kentucky and Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, the bill specifies that medical services provided by physicians, athletic trainers and other sports medicine professionals to an athlete while in another state would be felt to satisfy licensure requirements of that secondary state.

Numerous sports medicine organizations have pushed for this legislation, including the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

Athletic trainer treating a soccer injury

Sports medicine professionals working with athletes in another state

Currently physicians obtain a medical license to practice in a particular state. Medical liability insurance covers them to treat patients in that state. Most of the time, this arrangement is sufficient to allow that physician to perform his job. The challenge comes for medical professionals who work with teams that travel to other states to play games or compete in tournaments.

The process of obtaining a state license to practice can take weeks or even months. If an orthopedic surgeon or athletic trainer knew the team would play frequently in a neighboring state, he could apply for a full license in that state. But at the college and pro levels, teams often play in 10 states or more in a season. Plus, in the playoffs a team might find out where it is playing only a few days in advance.

Medical professionals can’t complete licensure applications and requirements that fast.

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Athletic trainers and doctors should not have to expose themselves to professional risk to work with their teams

It’s more than just convenience, though. Doctors and athletic trainers need to know their medical insurance will cover them when working in another state. They shouldn’t be forced to choose between treating one of their injured athletes and risking malpractice issues or staying home and not traveling with the team.

The bill is important for athletes as well. If passed into law, athletes will be treated by doctors and athletic trainers who know them and know their medical and injury history. If their team doctors and athletic trainers can’t evaluate and treat them, then their care would fall to the medical staff of the home team or doctors of local emergency departments or urgent care facilities.

The bill now heads to the Senate. If passed, it will go to the president to be signed into law. This bill was passed by the House in 2016, but Congress adjourned before the Senate approved it.

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Athletic trainer treating quadriceps injury

The roles that athletic trainers play with sports teams

This legislation might be even more important for athletic trainers than team physicians. Athletic trainers undoubtedly play critical roles in athletic programs. They serve as first responders to injured athletes. They develop emergency action plans. They monitor field, environment, and weather conditions. They develop and coordinate injury prevention programs, prepare athletes for practice and games, communicate with physicians about injuries, treat and rehabilitate injured players, and help determine return to play for injured athletes.

In doing so, they spend countless hours with their teams over the course of the season, including trips with those teams as they play all across the country.

National Athletic Training Month

March is National Athletic Training Month. The slogan for this year’s campaign is “Your Protection is Our Priority.” Like team physicians, athletic trainers play a crucial role in protecting the health and safety of their athletes. Hopefully this legislation will soon better protect them while they do their jobs.

Note: A modified version of this article appears as my sports medicine column in the March 2, 2017 issue of The Post and Courier.