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The Sports Center

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Magazine, January 8, 2010
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But professional sports affiliations aren't always easy to come by. Sports medicine programs get competitive in trying to land a deal with a pro sports team. Some even pay for the privilege.

Besides, it is only effective for reaching a portion of the patient population. The older weekend warriors may require a different outreach approach, so marketing has to be segmented. Matava and other Washington University sports medicine providers regularly hold health fairs at malls and hotels to reach this particular audience. So far, it has been effective, and he's seen attendance as high as 200 people at these lectures, he says.

"The vast majority of people who come to these fairs" are in the older age cohort that isn't necessarily affiliated with an organized sport, he says.

There are also opportunities for sports medicine doctors to reach out to high schools and groups within the community that might not have athletic trainers or any sort of regular sports medicine coverage. Hospital for Special Surgery sends physicians and athletic trainers to football games at public high schools in underserved areas that often have little care, and it hosts walk-in clinics on Monday mornings for those athletes to be seen, says Rodeo.

Success Key No. 3: Take a team approach
Athletic trainers aren't the only additional personnel needed to make sports medicine work. Although the service line stems from orthopedics and is financially centered on surgeries, only about one of every 10 patients with a sports-related injury needs surgical intervention, says Matava. A sports medicine program has to offer nonoperative treatments for patients, as well.

In addition to orthopedic surgeons and athletic trainers, the full sports medicine team can include primary care doctors, physiatrists, physical therapists, psychologists, and experts in sports nutrition. "Certain patients may not need me at all but will need multiple people in group to treat them and rehab them," says Geier. The sports medicine program has to keep all those pieces working together to not only perform surgeries, but also to "do what's best for prevention and treatment of athletic injuries."

Managing and coordinating this multidisciplinary team can be one of the more significant challenges of running a sports medicine program, says Geier. "It can be somewhat of a challenge managing all the different components of sports medicine and trying to coordinate people that work for other departments." That's one reason sports medicine is often better as a stand-alone service line, rather than a subdepartment within orthopedics.

But it is never completely separate from orthopedics. There are also close links with joint replacement programs, particularly over time. "The line between total joints and sports medicine is somewhat of a blurred line," Matava says. Patients in their 40s or 50s who are coming to the sports medicine program for shoulder or knee operations may be back in a few years for a joint replacement as it starts to wear down. A well-run sports medicine program can generate revenue horizontally across the department and over time from the same patients, as well.

Success Key No. 4: Consider a dedicated facility
Hospitals are increasingly co-locating similar services and, when it makes financial sense, building a dedicated facility for a particular service line. In addition to streamlining some of the operational back-and-forth, organizing services in one location is strategically beneficial—it's more convenient for the patient and helps unify the service line's overall brand.

But the case for a dedicated facility isn't always as easy to make for sports medicine. It depends, in part, on the scale of the program. Sports medicine surgeons for the most part rely on the same imaging and surgical equipment as their orthopedic peers, so there aren't any investments in unique equipment when starting a fresh program. It may make sense, initially, to keep the sports medicine program tied closely to other orthopedics programs to keep from duplicating resources and equipment.

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