In an effort to put a national spotlight on student athlete health and safety, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga hosted a “Sports Injury Epidemic” conference to address specific administrative recommendations that ensure the effectiveness of sports medicine programs in school settings. These guidelines will help to reduce the occurrence of acute, chronic or catastrophic injury, ensure a clear chain of command, and guide the selection and evaluation of the sports medicine team. School accountability and the vital role of parent advocacy efforts were also addressed by a national panel of speakers.

The program is held in partnership with Erlanger Health System and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA).  In its continued commitment to sports safety, NATA hosted the fifth annual Youth Sports Safety Summit in March and addressed the need for a culture change in sports. Additionally, the University of Georgia will host a three-day conference on “Best Practices for Intercollegiate Sports Medicine Management,” May 5-7, 2014, to continue this vital dialogue and to reinforce the recommendations.

“Today’s program reinforces a clear chain of command and agreed upon communication when it comes to proper protocols should an athlete go down on the playing field,” said Bill Moore Smith, MD, head team physician, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and medical director for sports medicine, UT College of Medicine and Erlanger Health System. “UTC developed this forum with student athlete health and welfare as a first priority. We will continue to champion this program and the important perspectives all speakers shared in addressing accountability and injury prevention and treatment.”

“On the heels of the Youth Sports Safety Summit just weeks ago, we remain challenged to address student athlete safety from accountability and best practice point of view,” added NATA president Jim Thornton, MA, ATC, CES. “With the continued pressures on coaches to win, players to excel and sports medicine teams to ensure best care with no conflict of interest, we hope today’s program provides a clear and consistent roadmap that ensures player safety first.”

The interassociation consensus statement, “Best Practices for Sports Medicine Management for Secondary Schools and Colleges” served as a cornerstone of today’s event and was recently published in the Journal of Athletic Training, NATA’s scientific publication. To read the statement please visit: http://natajournals.org/doi/full/10.4085/1062-6050-49.1.06. Representative organizations include NATA, NCAA, the American Academy of Pediatrics and National Federation of State High Schools among other leading sport and health care groups.

Brian Hainline, MD, chief medical officer, National Collegiate Athletic Association, discussed the need for school athletic programs to eliminate any appearance of conflict of interest by becoming transparently accountable. He reinforced that institutions must affirm that sports medicine providers are empowered to make best-interest decisions regarding the athlete at all times and in all settings; and that this must be clearly communicated both in policy and in practice.

Brooke de Lench, executive director, MomsTEAM Institute, addressed how youth sports parents are working in their communities to make high school sports safer. She sourced her PBS documentary “The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer” to show how the concerns of a football mom about the alarming number of concussions on her son’s team led one Oklahoma community, working as a team, to implement a comprehensive concussion risk management program; overcome the culture of resistance to concussion reporting; and reduce the concussion rate by 75 percent.

Ron Courson, ATC, PT, senior associate athletic director for sports medicine, University of Georgia, outlined the best practice recommendations which provide superintendents of schools, secondary school athletic directors, college/university athletic department administrators, athletic trainers and team/school physicians with important considerations regarding duties and responsibilities of each sports medicine team member. Highlights include:

  • Establish an “athlete-centered medicine” approach to care: the athlete’s health and safety is primary.
  • Create specific duties and responsibilities of the athletic trainer and team physician and that ATs report to that physician: in no case should there be a supervisory relationship where members of the sports medicine team report to a coach due to both perceived and real conflicts of interest.
  • Determine the decision making authority relating to approval for participation as well as injury management and return to play in the high school and college/university settings.
  • Create policy and procedure recommendations for the hiring, renewal or dismissal of athletic trainers in the college/university and high school environments.

Courson also discussed the development of an athletic medicine advisory board now being formed at the University of Georgia and as a prototype of what other schools may consider doing to ensure objective, fair and unconflicted quality of care of the student athlete. The board comprises legal, sports medicine, administrative and athletic team representatives to ensure a cross section of experts and input.

There are more than 7.6 million students participating in organized secondary school athletics in the United States. Last year more than 420,000 student athletes represented their colleges in athletic participation. It is estimated that more than 1.4 million injuries occur annually to secondary school athletes; and approximately 209,000 yearly at the collegiate level across 25 NCAA sports. These statistics take into account both practices and games.

“With these new best practice recommendations in place, and a commitment to accountability and liability, we are at the crossroads of a real cultural shift on student athlete sports safety front,” Smith commented. “Recognizing these national protocols as well as the work that parents and other advocates are doing in their local communities, we must ensure the best possible care of our student athletes so they can remain on the field and off the sidelines safely and effectively. Then, we have a true win-win all around.”

About The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is a comprehensive, metropolitan university, offering bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and post-graduate degrees and certificates. Strong partnerships in the Chattanooga region allow for numerous experiential learning and applied research opportunities through the Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Engineering and Computer Science; and Health, Education, and Applied Professional Studies, as well as the UTC Graduate School. Visit www.UTC.edu.

About Erlanger Health System

Erlanger Health System is a non-profit, academic medical center affiliated with the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, and is a Level-One Trauma Center for adults and, through Children’s Hospital at Erlanger, is also the region’s only pediatric hospital. Erlanger is the only provider of tertiary care services for a four-state region encompassing southeast Tennessee, north Georgia, north Alabama and western North Carolina. With a history that dates back more than a century, Erlanger is recognized as one of the nation’s finest public hospitals and a leader in healthcare. Each year, more than a quarter of a million people are treated by the team of healthcare professionals who are part of Erlanger. Visit www.erlanger.org.

About University of Tennessee College of Medicine

As the flagship statewide academic health system, the mission of University of Tennessee College of Medicine and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is to bring the benefits of the health sciences to the achievement and maintenance of human health, with a focus on the citizens of Tennessee and the region, by pursuing an integrated program of education, research, clinical care, and public service. Offering a broad range of postgraduate and selected baccalaureate training opportunities, the main UTHSC campus is located in Memphis and includes six colleges: Allied Health Sciences, Dentistry, Graduate Health Sciences, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. UTHSC also educates and trains cohorts of medicine, pharmacy and/or allied health students — in addition to medical residents and fellows — at its major sites in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville. Founded in 1911, during its more than 100 years, UT Health Science Center has educated and trained more than 53,000 health care professionals in academic settings and health care facilities across the state. For more information, visit www.uthsc.edu.

About NATA: National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) – Health Care for Life & Sport

Athletic trainers are health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and sport-related illnesses. They prevent and treat chronic musculoskeletal injuries from sports, physical and occupational activity, and provide immediate care for acute injuries. Athletic trainers offer a continuum of care that is unparalleled in health care. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association represents and supports 39,000 members of the athletic training profession. Visit www.nata.org.

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