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Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)
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 - and travel with high school, college and professional teams.
Introduced by 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, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
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.
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.
This legislation might be even more important for athletic trainers than team physicians. I've explained several times in this column just how important athletic trainers are for teams and their players. They provide a myriad of services to the athletes, spending countless hours with their teams over the course of the season.
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.
David Geier is an orthopaedic surgeon in Charleston. For more information on sports medicine topics, go to DrDavidGeier.com.
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