Hospitals

Sports medicine clinics becoming increasingly attractive to hospitals

As hospitals stare down a future of budget cuts and declining reimbursement, more figure to turn to sports medicine clinics as a means of financial support.

Sports medicine centers have catered to high school athletes for years, but the big driver behind their expected growth in the coming years is very familiar to anyone in the health industry: aging baby boomers.

Generally speaking, today’s boomers are far more active than seniors have typically been in the past, said Dr. David Geier Jr., an orthopedic surgeon who is director of sports medicine with the Medical University of South Carolina. MUSC started its sports medicine program about six years ago.

“Athletes used to stop when they got to be around 35 or 40, but now regularly you see 65- and 70-year-olds running marathons or playing tennis,” Geier said. “Being told you can’t run anymore, or you can’t play golf anymore isn’t acceptable.”

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Sports medicine clinics typically employ a number of different types of health professionals including: orthopedic surgeons, primary care doctors who specialize in sports medicine, nutritionists, athletic trainers and physical therapists.

Injuries treated at sports medicine clinics can range from sprains to concussions to stress fractures, and often involve the knees or shoulders — joints that are particularly vulnerable during athletics.

Unfortunately, numbers on sports medicine clinics are hard to come by. A spokeswoman with the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine said the organization doesn’t maintain statistics on how many sports medicine clinics there are in the U.S.

Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence suggests that lots of hospitals, including children’s hospitals, having been expanding their sports medicine business in recent years.

That’s because sports medicine offers the potential for healthy profits. Contrasted with orthopedics patients, people seeking sports medicine services tend to be younger and are more likely to be on private insurance, which pays more than Medicare, according to Hospitals and Health Networks Magazine. (Though that patient mix figures to change a bit as more seniors stay active.)

Additionally, sports medicine clinics offer hospitals the opportunity for “downstream revenues,” Geier said. For example, a mother who brings her daughter to a sports medicine center for an MRI after a sports injury might have a good experience and return to the hospital when she needs orthopedic surgery.

“There’s so many ancillary services that the hospital can capture,” Geier said.

Plus, unlike some other medical specialties, sports medicine services can be appropriate for the widest of all patient populations — all ages and both genders. “There’s always going to be people playing sports,” Geier said.

[Photo from flickr user conant.brian]

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