10 Ways to Differentiate Sports Medicine Practices in a Competitive Market

Practice Management

Several sports medicine physicians discuss how they differentiate themselves and their practices from other orthopedic groups.
1. Market your fellowship training. Most sports medicine physicians undergo fellowship training and have the added sports medicine certification, which is one way you can differentiate yourself from general orthopedic groups in your area. "We have chosen to recruit and market ourselves as specially-trained in sports medicine," says Craig Levitz, MD, a principle of Orlin & Cohen Orthopedic Associations and director of sports medicine and chairman of the department of orthopedics and orthopedic surgery at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, N.Y. "In our marketing, we tell patients our subspecialization means we do more of one procedure than anyone else around, which means we have more experience and better outcomes."

In the marketing material, Dr. Levitz's group emphasizes that with all the different procedures and technologies in orthopedics, it's tough to become an expert at everything. This is why his group focuses on what each individual surgeon does well. "We have multiple surgeons who focus on different orthopedic subspecialties to cover everyone's needs," he says. "It's almost like we offer a university department of orthopedics in our community practice."

Only fellowship-trained sports medicine physicians and specialists make up Arthritis & Sports Orthopaedics & Physical Therapy in Sterling, Va., a sports medicine practice founded by Randall S. Peyton, MD. "We are all premier physicians who are fellowship trained from multiple disciplines concentrating on unparalleled non-operative care and the most advanced minimally invasive operative techniques," he says.

Even beyond sports medicine, surgeons can subspecialize further to focus on the knee, shoulder or elbow. "Everyone in our group masters in a particular area," says Bradford S. Tucker, MD, a sports medicine physician with Rothman Institute in Philadelphia. "I do anywhere from 500-600 surgeries per year focusing on the shoulder, knee and elbow. If I agree to perform a procedure, that's something I really specialize in. If I don't have as much experience treating a certain condition, I will refer my patients to one of my partners who has more experience in that area."

2. Create a one-stop shop for athletes. Some sports medicine physicians and practices are focusing on more than just seeing patients in their clinics; they want to provide a one-stop shop for athletes where they can receive care regardless of their condition. This means expanding the traditional orthopedic practice to include physical therapy, occupational therapy, sports performance and nutrition services. Blue Ridge Bone & Joint in Asheville, N.C., is one that adheres to this model.

"We want to be seen as a destination point for injury prevention, performance enhancement and treatment," says Gordon I. Groh, MD, a shoulder, elbow and hand specialist practicing at Blue Ridge Bone & Joint. "At minimum, as a sports medicine facility, you need to have easy access to physical therapy, but the other services add great value to your practice."

The global service can also include an imaging and surgery center as well as a pharmacy, like OrthoMaryland does. "We have almost everything in-house and it's very convenient for the patient," says Jon D. Koman, MD, an orthopedic sports medicine physician with LifeBridge Sports Medicine and practicing at OrthoMaryland in Baltimore. "That's what patients want — a one-stop shop."

3. Focus your practice based on area athletics.
Focusing specialist treatment and programs on the sports popular in your community is important. If your community is in Colorado, you'll want to focus on the conditions and treatments related to skiing and snowboarding. However, if your practice is in an area where people enjoy cycling, you should focus on common injuries for those athletes.

"You need to concentrate on your local market first," says Dr. Groh. "You need to identify the sports infrastructure in that area — what activities people do at what levels — and then become an expert."

Once you have the experience with athletes like your target patient populations, you can advertise yourself as such and teach courses about those specific areas. Much like the seminars held for local coaches and athletes, you can hold similar events targeting a single sport or activity.

"You need to emphasize you have a real understanding of the performance nature of the sport and the competition associated with it," says Dr. Groh. "Tune into the season and show patients you are really trying to help them excel in that area."

4. Make yourself available at any time. One of the core aspects of a successful sports medicine practice is availability. Athletes often play games on the weekends, and injuries are more likely to occur during competition than during practice. This means holding weekend or urgent care hours is necessary to accommodate these athletes.

"Availability is the number one priority for our practice," says Dr. Koman. "If a primary care physician calls with an injured patient, we make room for them to come the same day or as soon as possible. We also try to see add-ons as soon as we can. Our practice is very service-oriented."

Dr. Levitz's practice includes all the elements of a one-stop shop for athletes as well as electronic medical records to streamline the process. "Coaches love us because instead of waiting weeks to figure out what is wrong with their players, we know by the end of the day on their first visit and they are already in therapy," says Dr. Levitz. "This helps us a great deal. By being available and keeping everything in-house, we are able to give patients more efficient care."

Dr. Tucker and the other sports medicine physicians at Rothman Institute give athletic trainers at the schools they cover several different ways to reach them, including their cell phone numbers. "We give athletic trainers our personal cell phone numbers so they can call us up and ask questions right away after an injury," he says. "We also have a sports program hotline for the trainers as well, so they can call whenever someone is injured and make an appointment to see one of our physicians right away."

5. Work with athletic trainers.
Athletic trainers are essential for sports medicine practices because they can act as a liaison between local athletic teams and your practice. "We hired seven certified athletic trainers and I think that really helps us in the community because it allows us to be present at many different sporting events," says William Carroll, MD, a sports medicine physician at Charleston (S.C.) Bone & Joint. Each athletic trainer was assigned to a local high school after being hired. "They attend both practices and games to ensure the appropriate guidelines are being followed, such as warm ups, stretching and hydration. The trainers can also identify when kids have injuries earlier and send them for treatment."

When the athletes have strains, sprains or twists, the trainers can care for them immediately on most occasions. When the injury needs extra attention, the trainer can recommend the athletes visit an orthopedic surgeon as soon as possible. Additionally, if your group becomes the official medical provider for a local team, you can hang banners and other advertisements for at games for maximum exposure.

6. Provide education for the community.
Orthopedic surgeons, athletic trainers and other sports staff can give presentations for the youth, high school and college athletes, coaches and parents about sports health- and injury-related topics. In addition to these obvious audiences, sports medicine groups can also target adults who play intramural sports or baby boomers wishing to stay active.

"We hold seminars and events to educate the community," says Dr. Carroll. "We help where we can to ensure people are having a good and safe season."

At the seminars, there are several different topics you can focus on. Popular topics right now include injury prevention, concussions and women's sports health, says Dr. Groh. "Provide some information about performance enhancement and discuss the services at your facility," he says.

Dr. Tucker and the physicians at Rothman Institute also give presentations to family care physicians and athletic trainers about treatment for sports medicine injuries. "During our talks for physicians and trainers, we discuss some of the newest literature for common injuries, such as knee or shoulder ligament injuries," he says. "We might discuss hot topics, such as platelet-rich plasma, which gathers attention because professional athletes are getting these injections and the general public wants to know about it. We discuss whether it would be worthwhile for high school athletes or weekend warriors to have the same type of injections."

Other practices, like Dr. Koman's group, give presentations for athletes on topics such as the proper way to throw a baseball to decrease the risk of injury. His group also holds presentations for people involved in workers' compensation cases, such as social workers, to discuss how they care for these cases.

7. Give back to the community beyond just sports medicine. While providing medical care for a local team is a great way for sports medicine physicians to give back to their community, giving back in other ways can build your reputation further. Dr. Peyton's practice donates to a different charity chosen by practice employees each month and participates in other community-based activities.

"We have sponsored the Arthritis Foundation's Walk for the past eight years and I have been the medical honorary chair for each of those years," says Dr. Peyton.

8. Stay updated on the latest and greatest techniques. Athletes of all experience levels want to return to play as soon as possible, and staying updated on new techniques can give your practice the edge. While it's important to ensure all new technology and procedures are proven effective before incorporating them fully into your practice, you don't want to be left behind. At Dr. Carroll's practice, the physicians have a Cartilage Center where they perform procedures such as autologous chondrocyte implantation, cartilage transfers and fresh frozen cartilage grafting.

"We also perform the latest techniques in ACL reconstructions and rotator cuff reconstructions," says Dr. Carroll. "We are able to perform anatomic ACL reconstructions because we have quite a few fellowship-trained sports medicine physicians."

In some cases, this may include actually participating in new technology innovation. "[In our practice], we are all pioneers in our field constantly improving our non-operative and operative treatments for our specific subspecialties in orthopedics," says Dr. Peyton. "I help to design hip replacements and instruments to implant knee replacements. Other doctors continually work on options to preserve joints and delay or avoid operative treatment."

Dr. Tucker is also able to work with new technology because his group places an emphasis on academics as well as the clinical practice. He is on faculty at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and is involved in researcher there, which sometimes translates into cutting-edge treatment in the practice. "All physicians in our group are on faculty at Jefferson and involved in a lot of research that puts us in front of other physicians," he says. "I am involved in cartilage repair research. You take cartilage cells from one area in the body and put them into another to enhance healing. I'm able to do this in my practice."

Dr. Koman was exposed to new technology in sports medicine — such as digital arthroscopy equipment and implant technology — during his residency. However, he knows it's important to have studies supporting good outcomes before incorporating new technology in his practice. "I try to stay mainstream because I think it's good to be a middle man — not the first and not the last," he says. "But if I feel something has a decent track record and studies back it up, I would use it."

9. Treat an entire spectrum of patients. Sports medicine incorporates several different subspecialty areas — including knee, hip, hand, foot, ankle, shoulder and elbow care — as well as athletes from pee wee all the way through the active retirement population; your practice should too. In order to differentiate itself from other orthopedic and sports medicine practices in the community, Dr. Carroll's practice includes specialists from all subspecialties who work with adult and pediatric populations.

"It's nice because if you see someone when they are younger with a sports injury, you can develop a relationship with them," says Dr. Carroll. "Later on, if they develop osteoarthritis, we can continue treating them through the spectrum."

This also means treating many different types of athletes. Sports medicine physicians should be available to treat youth athletes all the way through professional players. "We treat the Philadelphia Eagles, Phillies and Flyers, but the majority of the athletes we treat are high school or collegiate athletes," says Dr. Tucker.

10. Focus on the patient experience.
It's important for sports medicine practices to provide a stellar experience for patients so they will recommend their physicians to friends. This means seeing your patients in a timely fashion, engaging them in treatment decisions and respecting them throughout their recovery.

"We want our patients to be an integral part of deciding their treatment," says Dr. Carroll. "But we also want to show them their recovery goes beyond just feeling better. We really turn their visits into a wellness lesson where we give them guidance as to ways they can prevent injuries and stay healthy and fit."

Patients often appreciate the extra knowledge and focus on their personal situations. "We review all the exams and reports with our patients and then give them treatment options," says Dr. Koman. "Patients really appreciate it when we take the time to go over the diagnosis and appropriate surgical and non-surgical options."

Related Articles on Sports Medicine:

8 Keys to Success in Sports Medicine From Dr. James Andrews

Dr. Brian Cole: 3 Exciting Trends in Sports Medicine Research

12 New Partnerships & Expansions in Sports Medicine

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