There are some cases where a dedicated facility is worth considering, however. A program with high volume or a system with clinics and physicians scattered across a town or region might benefit from centralizing sports medicine services in one place.
The sports medicine program at MUSC is considering a dedicated facility and may be moving in that direction in the next year or two, says Geier. "A dedicated facility is something that's probably on the way. It's been subject to a lot of debate," he says.
Despite the costs, Geier believes it will help unify the program and boost some of the resources that aren't being used extensively now. For instance, the service line currently includes sports nutrition and sports psychology, and co-locating everything in a centralized facility would make those services easier to promote to patients who were visiting the facility for other treatment options.
"Obviously a dedicated facility costs a lot of money and that's part of the problem," he says. "But on the flip side, are you better off at four or five different places all over town to get people treatment closer to home? Or is it better to have them drive to one comprehensive center?"
The latter option increasingly looks like the best choice, he says.
Paying for the Pros
Getting selected by a professional sports team to treat its players can be a boon to a sports medicine program. It's a great marketing tool because patients often assume that their favorite athletes worth millions of dollars would only be treated by the best. Little do they know, the physicians or hospital may have paid for that affiliation.
As the sports medicine market has grown increasingly competitive, hospitals and medical groups have begun bidding for access to professional sports teams, often paying millions of dollars for the privilege. On top of the payment for access, providers also often treat athletes for free or discounted rates.
Many physicians aren't happy with the trend, however. Some see it as unethical; others don't see the financial value in coughing up seven figures to treat a team.
"If you had a debate among sports medicine physicians, there would be a lot of opinions on all different sides of that," says C. David Geier, Jr., MD, director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. "Do you use [the sports team] to market? Do you pay for that privilege, and is it a conflict of interest?"
Questions can even arise from athletes who are familiar with the practice. They may start to wonder whether they really are being treated by the best physicians in the area, or just by the highest bidder.
Most hospitals and physician groups would agree that marketing an existing relationship with a pro team is fair game. The crucial factor is making sure that the marketing and the clinical arrangements are completely separate. Let the marketing department handle the marketing, and the physicians handle the care, and don't let the two overlap, Geier says.