Kansas Athletics Shifts Healthcare Oversight to MDs

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The University of Kansas athletic department is collaborating with The University of Kansas Health System and LMH Health to launch Kansas Team Health, a new model of student-athlete care believed to be the first of its kind among major collegiate athletics programs, according to the KU athletics website.

The collaboration not only makes the resources of The University of Kansas Health System and LMH Health available to provide the best care possible for KU student-athletes, but it clearly establishes the responsibility of care with medical professionals while minimizing potential conflicts of interest between coaches and sports medicine staff.

Under the new model, which went into effect May 1, approximately 40 sports medicine staffers — including physicians, athletic trainers, nutritionists, wellness coordinators and, most notably, strength and conditioning coaches — will fully report to medical professionals, rather than reporting through a physician employed by the athletic department and to athletics administrators. This is now a true medical oversight and healthcare compliance model.

"The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our highest priority," KU athletics director Jeff Long said. "Additionally, we want our medical staff to have access to the resources they need to provide KU student-athletes the best medical care possible. This partnership strengthens our ability to achieve our highest priorities."

The Kansas Team Health model is believed to be the first among major universities to incorporate strength and conditioning coaches — a category of practitioners that has received increased attention across college sports in recent years.

"Strength and conditioning coaches spend an immense amount of time with our student-athletes and they're doing some of the more demanding things on our student-athletes' bodies," Long added during a conference call with reporters, including Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World. "Whether that's conditioning them through running or the lifting and strength training they’re actually doing, that was evident to us as we looked at this."

The three partner organizations first began exploring this model at the direction of KU chancellor Douglas Girod, himself a surgeon. Since then, research and best practices provided by Dr. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer for the NCAA Sport Science Institute, and widely publicized sports medicine challenges across the country confirmed for Girod and Long the need to create a better model of student-athlete care.

"The norm in college athletics has been for sports medicine practitioners to report to athletics department administrators," Girod said. "At KU, our student-athletes have received outstanding care, and we have not had issues related to supervision and adherence to best practices. That said, we knew we had a special opportunity to be innovative and get ahead of the curve. As a result, I believe we can tell all current and future student-athletes that they're getting the best care and training in the country at the University of Kansas."

Kansas Athletics Inc. will no longer pay the 40 sports medicine salaries but instead pay Kansas Team Health, under The University of Kansas Health System, as a third-party for the services provided. The day-to-day duties of affected employees and their impact on KU’s student-athletes will not change, Long told reporters. In addition to KU, The University of Kansas Health System has secured past partnerships with the Kansas City Royals, the Kansas City Chiefs and multiple local high school athletics programs.

"Over the long term, we hope there’ll be savings," said Long, noting hospital purchasing power as one potential economic advantage. "But I want to be clear that the reason behind this is not to save resources for the institution. It's really to provide the best quality healthcare that we can."

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