5 Best Practices for Physicians to Develop a Successful Sports Medicine Practice

Orthopedic Sports Medicine

Orthopedic practices around the country are adding sports medicine to the list of services they provide, sometimes even including the phrase in their practice name. However, not all of these new practices provide the services necessary to become a truly successful sports medicine practice. Walter Lowe, MD, of the University of Texas Health and Science Center and team physician for the Houston Texans, Houston Rockets and the University of Houston Cougars, discusses what it takes to succeed with sports medicine.

1. Develop a good relationship with athletic trainers. While a physician's surgical skill is important in creating great outcomes, the outcomes are also dependent on the post-surgical care the patient receives. Sports medicine practices should employ good athletic trainers and physical therapists, or have positive working relationships with an outside rehabilitation team in order to prepare the patient for returning to his or her normal activities. Athletes are particularly interested in returning to their former level of performance as quickly as possible, which means a better rehabilitation experience translates to higher patient satisfaction.

2. Be available on the sidelines.
Commit to being a team physician for local youth sporting events and stand at the sidelines for each home event. If an injury occurs, the physician can make an assessment on the sidelines and treat the athlete as soon as possible. If the athlete has a good experience, he or she will relay that information to other players.

"You do have to build a good reputation because your patients are out there playing with other people who are your future patients," says Dr. Lowe. "The marketing dollars that are spent trying to promote physicians through advertising at the stadium for the most part are wasted." He says very few of his patients come to him as referrals from other physicians; most learn of his work through word-of-mouth.

3. Stay educated on latest procedural technology. Sports medicine is one of the most rapidly growing orthopedic subspecialties, which means treatment solutions are constantly evolving to better suit active patients. Physicians should stay aware of the newest procedures and technology that can help their patients heal quickly and have better outcomes, which often means learning about treatment for overuse injuries and ACL repair.

Dr. Lowe says anatomic placement of ACL grafts in single or double bundle procedures and repair using platelet rich plasma are the latest trends in ACL treatment. While these methods are effective for immediate treatment, researchers are unable to tell whether the solutions are effective in preventing arthritis.

"One thing that's a little frustrating for patients in sports medicine is that they want to be better immediately," says Dr. Lowe. "We are definitely getting very good at restoring immediate function. However, it's frustrating because we'd like to know these changes are going to prevent further conditions (such as arthritis) but really the only thing that's going to prove it is to assess the patients 20 years from now."

4. Commit to saying "yes."
Athletes involved in school sports and after-school activities are often injured during the weekends or after clinic hours, yet they require immediate attention. Dr. Lowe says a successful sports medicine physician should always be available for his or her patients, regardless of the time or a busy schedule. "It takes a commitment of answering your phone and saying 'yes'," says Dr. Lowe. "The patients are usually young and highly motivated. If you want to survive in the sports medicine world, you have to have the mentality of service to your patients." If the physician turns a young athlete away, he or she will find another facility willing to offer immediate treatment.

5. Pay attention to the regular clinic. While serving as team physician for college or professional teams is prestigious, the bulk of the orthopedic work takes place in the regular clinic. "The professional and college world doesn't even make up 10 percent of the surgical cases I do," says Dr. Lowe. "The bread and butter of the practice happens in the clinic." There are very few athletes from one team who need orthopedic surgery every season, which means the physician must also build a reputation among all members of his or her community.

Learn more about Dr. Walter Lowe.

Read other coverage on best practices for sports medicine:

- 4 Points Physicians Should Cover During Coaches Meetings

- 5 Best Practices for Community Outreach in Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Practices

- Strategies for Preventing Overuse Injuries in Youth Sports Medicine

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