Spine Specialists in the Sports World: 4 Things to Know

Written by Bob Spoerl | April 13, 2012 | Print  |
Athletes know pain. They also need top-of-the-line physicians and surgeons who understand them and the unique kind of pain they face that non-athletes couldn't dream about. But how does a spine clinic become a go-to specialist for athletic teams? Chief Development Officer of the Texas Back Institute in Plano, Texas, Cheryl Zapata, explains how her center became a specialty institute for several professional teams in the area. Begin the relationship

"We started out by doing an assessment of our local community to find out what local team needs were," Ms. Zapata says.

Fortunately, there were several teams within a few miles of three of the clinics Texas Back Institute manages, which made things a bit easier. What they were looking for they found, not just geographically but from a philosophical standpoint. "We were looking for teams that were well respected and had been embraced by the community," Ms. Zapata says. It became what she calls a "mutually beneficial relationship."

But before the teams said yes, they did a fair amount of research and background. Professional teams have a reputation to maintain, and they're not going to choose just any spine institute to become the official spine specialists for the team. It has to be one that provides quality care and reflects the ideals of the team looking for a spine specialist.

Texas Back Institute is the official spine specialist for two Texas teams. The first is a Double AA Baseball squad the Frisco RoughRiders, an affiliate of the Texas Rangers, a Major League Baseball team in the Lone Star state. The other professional sports organization is Major League Soccer team FC Dallas — the FC stands for 'football club.' Both affiliations are new this year.

Build and maintain a good reputation

Whatever region your institute is in, it's possible to make connections with athletes and sports teams. But before athletes will entrust you with taking care of their spine, there are several important things to keep in mind, according to Ms. Zapata.

1. Reputation is everything. Perhaps it seems cliché, but as with structuring care for any patient, a surgeon or group looking to work with athletes needs to root itself in keeping a sound reputation. No team physician is going to recommend an athlete or the entire team to a less than stellar surgeon – the physician has a reputation to keep too.

2. Being thought leaders in the area of spine care. Ms. Zapata says this was critical for Texas Back Institute when landing specialty arrangements with the two professional sports team in its area. "That proved to be very important for one of the teams," Ms. Zapata says. "They only wanted thought leaders."

Texas Back was the first spine center to use robotic spine surgery helped pioneer minimally invasive spine surgery and was the first to perform artificial disc surgery in the United States.

3. Focusing on customer service and individual patient care. Landing the surgery for a big name athlete may be thrilling and provide welcomed public relations when it happens, but the key is to treat every patient as if he or she is a competitive athlete.

"Each patient is individually important and unique," Ms. Zapata says.  

Respect confidentiality wishes

Beyond serving Dallas and Ft. Worth area athletes, Texas Back surgeons treat professional athletes from all around the nation. Some will fly in to be treated at the spine institute in Plano. But there's an air of mystery surrounding who has received care at the clinic, an intentional level of vagueness.

"There has to be a particular level of confidentiality whenever you have a patient who is an athlete," Ms Zapata says. "We respect all patient confidentiality wishes, but realize the concerns are heightened when it's an athlete in the spotlight, or any other public figure"

Some athletes who come in to the Texas Back Institute want to be sure they are able to keep a low profile before and after being treated, and the clinic respects the interest of them.

Treat athletes at all levels

As a spine institute with more than 35 years experience and a medical staff of more than a dozen specialists, Texas Back Institute treats athletes who aren't on local sports teams. The institute offers a variety of services and various levels of treatment for all athletes, professional and amateur alike. Surgeons and physical therapists with Texas Back have worked on the spines of "mountain climbers, professional runners and professional golfers," Ms. Zapata says. And the mindset and treatment style is the same for every patient.

"In this practice, the philosophy here is always what is least invasive," she says. "It's amazing, but that really is the philosophy here."

For athletes with spinal issues, the clinic will look to physical therapy for treatment answers. If surgery is needed, the solution is a minimally invasive procedure if at all possible.

"Athletes look for the least invasive treatment options," Ms. Zapata says.
Texas Back's philosophy has helped influence athletes to be treated there. They've "run the gamut" on the kinds of treatment offered at the clinic, according to Ms. Zapata. In addition to physical therapy and minimally invasive procedures for athletes, Texas Back surgeons have performed artificial disc replacements for athletes, and carrying out major surgeries when necessary.

More Articles on Spine Sports Medicine and Business:

15 Orthopedic Surgeons Treating Sports Stars
4 Tips for the Entrepreneurial Business-Minded Spine Surgeon
5 Points on Incorporating Nonsurgical Treatment Into Spine Care

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