With spring upon us, athletes everywhere are putting away their hockey sticks and basketballs in favor of baseball bats, tennis racquets and lacrosse sticks – just to name a few sports that parents spend countless hours watching as their children dream of becoming the next superstars. The truth is, though, regardless of the season, the likelihood of a sports injury is exponentially higher than future superstardom, which keeps general practitioners, orthopedic specialists, and sports doctors alike busy all year long. In fact, there were nearly 8 million sports and recreation injuries in the United States in 2017.
As with any illness or injury, efficiency of diagnosis and treatment is a primary factor in recovery. That, along with the country experiencing a shortage of physicians, makes it important to leverage available technology to allow faster and better treatment of injuries. Connected health solutions, for instance, allow doctors to use telehealth services to connect with injured patients, creating a number of efficiencies for both patients and medical professionals.
Injuries are, by nature, unpredictable and typically happen at locations – and times – without convenient access to physicians. When an injury occurs during a game or practice, the sooner it can be assessed and treatment started, the better. While professional organizations and collegiate teams have professional medical staff with them at all times, lower level programs from high schools to rec leagues, and even collegiate intramural and club sports, can hardly afford dedicated physicians at their events.
Telehealth allows coaches and trainers to communicate with general practitioners or orthopedic specialists from the field of play when an injury occurs, to help diagnose the nature and severity of the injury along with immediate and extended treatment. In many cases, there is questions as to whether athletes should be allowed to return to their games. Immediate consultation using telehealth puts that decision in the hands of trained medical professionals, not the coaches. This is particularly important with updated concussion protocols in place across the country that require specific conditions to be met in order for players to return to play if possibility of a concussion is suspected.
With no trained professional on hand to determine the nature and extent of an injury, parents and coaches often opt for an emergency room visit. Connected health consultations can help determine whether an ER visit is necessary, or whether other options are appropriate, including Immediate Care Clinics or even waiting to see a PCP or sports injury specialist. By avoiding unnecessary ER visits, hospital staff are able to focus on true life threatening conditions, while saving money for both hospitals and injured patients. One study showed that pre-assessments using telehealth saved almost $2,500 per averted ER visit for hospitals.
By nature, telehealth takes geography out of the equation, which means physicians and sports specialists can travel with teams or players virtually. This allows injured players to seek consultations from their trusted providers who also know their health and injury histories. It is important to note, however, that currently, cross-border regulations still vary by state when it comes to telehealth, which may impact injury treatment using connected health for players and teams competing outside their home states.
Ongoing training and support
Telehealth can also extend to injury prevention and rehab protocols. Physicians and sports doctors can set up individual or group sessions to discuss training programs, nutrition, and other variables to reduce risk of injury. It can also help with follow-up consultations during rehab to allow doctors to check on their patients’ progress, reducing time and travel for patients and allowing doctors to treat more patients. Orthopedic telehealth visits have been shown to significantly reduce wait time (by nearly an hour) per visit, with a very high rate of recommendation – 99% according to one survey.
Connected health uses cases are growing and being adopted by a number of types of providers to drive more efficient and effective care, including orthopedics. Of course, there will be many injuries that will require immediate care, but the ability to quickly identify those and ensure precautions are taken to not worsen those cases – along with prescribing immediate treatment for non-emergency injuries – can help reduce healing time and get athletes back on their fields faster.
To learn how you can use telehealth or other connected health services to deliver better care to patients, visit us here.