Sports doctors have one very important task: to ensure the athletes under their care are in the best possible condition. That means treating ailments and injuries, offering medical advice, and researching the most effective treatment methods.
Since early 2016, concerns over the health of professional athletes have been increasing, particularly in the National Football League (NFL). Some are worried that the current healthcare structure of NFL team doctors divides the medical professionals’ loyalties. They feel an obligation to their players, but they have to take into account the club’s needs and desires as well.
So what are doctors to do when it comes to making decisions where the player’s health and wellbeing is on one side, and the club is on the other? In many cases medical professionals are put into impossible situations where either outcome could have lasting repercussions on the team.
But a recommendation out of Harvard University may be the answer to the problem. A team of Harvard researchers suggests a simple solution: sever the doctors’ and trainers’ ties to the club completely, and give them a singular focus—the players, their patients.
This recommendation would eliminate many of the difficult decisions doctors and trainers are forced to make. With the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA), current laws, and existing standards of ethical medical practice, it’s not uncommon for medical professionals to find themselves in an impossible position and forced to choose between the club that cuts their paychecks and the player-patients they’re being paid to treat.
This proposed change in the sports medicine structure would essentially create an entirely new group of medical professionals. These doctors and trainers wouldn’t be beholden to the clubs they work for, but will have the exclusive objective of treating their players. Their decisions wouldn’t be affected by concerns over the club’s reaction, but they would be better able to give the player-patients the care they deserve.
1. I. Glenn Cohen, Holly Fernandez Lynch and Christopher R. Deubert, “A Proposal to Address NFL Club Doctors’ Conflicts of Interest and to Promote Player Trust“, Hastings Center Report, doi: 10.1002/hast.651, published 22 November 2016.