business of pediatrics

The Critical Sports Physical for Pediatricians

Youth Sports Week kicks off July 20th and ends July 24th here in the U.S., and it’s a great opportunity for pediatricians to consider the care and opportunities they provide to the kids in their practice that practice sports, dance, or other active hobbies. From required sports physicals to specializations in sports medicine, here are some strategies your practice can consider for your practice’s young athletes.

Sports & Sports Physicals during COVID-19

Changing circumstances mean that every community’s sports programs and teams will operate in various ways during the 2020-21 school year. While the CDC has offered guidelines to practicing and competing safely as a supplement to state and local regulations, it will be important for your practice to be in contact with local school and community sports teams as they form plans for the coming season. 

The relationships with these community leaders will help your practice learn the risks your patients may be exposed to so that your office is prepared, as well as offer an opportunity for physicians to provide guidance to school or sports officials in regards to safe social distancing, disinfection, and more.

Sports physicals, for adolescents especially, are an important wellness visit for young athletes. Sports physicals are an opportunity to connect with patients on mental and sexual health, academic and social goals, and the new responsibilities they have as advocates in their own healthcare.

Billing for Sports Physicals 

Sports physicals are an important part of your practice’s annual revenue, as they make up an important well visit for adolescents. While it’s common to refer to sports physicals each sports season, according to PCC’s Pediatric Solutions team, it’s actually more common for physicians to discourage independent sports physical exams, as they are often not paid by carriers. “Many of our clients put work into finding workflows and patient care policies which specifically limit or discourage sports physicals as stand alone services precisely because carriers typically do not cover them (reminders, form fees, etc),” says Jan Blanchard, CPC, CPEC, CPMA. 

Instead, many practices construct workflows that allow them to perform the annual well visit for the athlete, with relevant additions for time or other concerns. And of course, this visit is the prime time for signing the required sports forms. Keep this in mind when considering your workflows for sports care, and make sure to communicate your practice’s policies on sports and wellcare visits to parents and families.

COVID-19 Sports Physical Requirements

Due to the pandemic, some school systems and sports associations may suspend or temporarily waive the requirement for sports physicals this year. Your practice should be sure to learn the status of sports physical requirements from your local sports associations and school systems, but just because they are not required does not mean you cannot offer them. With or without the requirement, your practice can start right now to campaign for sports physicals for teens and kids at home. You may consider a campaign on social media, via email, and on your practice website to celebrate student athletes and encourage them to make the appointment.

Injury Prevention

While athletes can take practical steps to prevent injury during practice or competition, kids who do not participate in team sports are still liable to get injured this summer, as the cancellation of many youth programs, summer camps, and group activities give kids lots more unsupervised free time.

For kids at home, resources such as Make Safe Happen can help families identify safety hazards based on kids’ ages and the rooms in the home. As for the outdoors, many pediatricians are taking a hard line on hazards like trampolines. “In my line of work I see how many kids get hurt on these things and how severely,” said Dr. Ryan Fitzgerald of Riley Children’s Hospital in Indiana, for an interview with The New York Times. “We’re not suggesting that you wrap your kids in Bubble Wrap. But we want them to go out and be active and healthy in a safe way.”

Your Practice as Urgent Care

Urgent care facilities are designed for adult patients, and in many cases, your office is better suited to sports-related injuries and concerns. The first step to getting patients into your office instead of to the local urgent care is availability and ease of access. 

According to the pediatricians at Kids Plus Pediatrics in Pittsburgh, PA, having your schedule open late or early for urgent visits is part of the solution, but for their patients, the ability to walk in was paramount. 

“We form what we do around the idea of 24/7 and 365,” says Chad Herman, Communications Director for the practice. “We’re available in some form or variety of ways all the time… so a mom at 2am holding a feverish baby can read a doctor’s note on our website, feel calmer, and maybe avoid a trip to the ER.” The practice has walk-in hours for any patient, any time, based on a set of walk-in criteria (namely that the problem is not chronic or behavioral like asthma or sleep issues).

Getting kids into the office for sports injuries is also about education -- families need to know which injuries your practice can provide care for. Sports practice can lead to injuries ranging from heat stroke to fractures; make a list of the common sports injuries your practice can handle, including whether you’re able to take x-rays and set casts. Once you have a list, it’s time to start communicating sports injury care! Send your patients an email, connect on social media, or create flyers at the office to remind parents of your sports care services.

Sports Specialization for Pediatricians

When considering sports care at your practice, you could choose to hire a physician with sports medicine specialization, or choose to pursue further training yourself, with or without certification. Specialization for pediatricians is usually an added benefit to patients’ health and the practice’s success.

If you or a colleague is a pediatric sports medicine specialist, this is also an added value to the care of your young athletes. According to HealthyChildren.org, sports medicine specialists are trained to care for sports injuries such as overuse, sprains, nutrition, and more. Some options for introducing sports care at your office include:

  • Hire with sports medicine in mind. Simply asking about interests in sports medicine during the search and interview process could lead to a candidate that’s more qualified in this area.
  • Further training for existing staff and physicians. All-staff training can help buoy sports care for everyone. Physicians can also achieve certification in sports medicine such as this course from the American Board of Pediatrics.
  • Professional relationships with nearby specialists. A relationship with nearby specialists can help your patients by removing an obstacle in accessing that specialized care. You could choose to simply refer your patients to trusted specialists, or even come to a formal agreement to consult with an individual on all your patients’ sports care. You can search for qualified specialists by engaging with your network, such as on professional forums like AAP’s SOAPM.

How does your practice care for young athletes? Whether you choose to hire a sports medicine specialist or learn more about sports medicine yourself, hiring (and retaining) a staff of like-minded professionals is key to your practice’s positive culture and continued success. Take a look at PedsOne founder Tim Rushford’s advice in his webinar, Hiring the Right People: Recruiting Practice Staff to learn how hiring and retaining staff can be as simple as asking the right questions.

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Allie Squires

Allie Squires is PCC's Marketing Content Writer and a transplant from upstate New York. She holds a master's in Professional Writing from NYU.