August 4th, 2007

Complicated Medical Care

By Rachel Cohen
Associated Press

Partnerships between doctors and teams continue to raise concerns around NFL

’Trust the pros the Ravens trust,’ read the ad on Baltimore’s website. ‘Click here to see a Ravens physician.’

The link took fans to the page for Union Memorial Hospital’s sports medicine program.

The implication was clear: If Union Memorial doctors are good enough for the Ravens, they’re good enough for a weekend warrior needing an orthopedist.

The partnership between Union Memorial’s parent company, MedStar Health, and the Ravens is potentially lucrative for both. The team receives sponsorship money, and the hospital can promote its affiliation with the franchise.

In 2004, after a spate of negative publicity, the NFL quietly enacted a policy that prohibits clubs from entering into marketing contracts with health care organizations that require the team to use doctors from the medical group.

“We wanted to be sure that medical decisions are unaffected by possible conflicts of interest, whether actual or perceived,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

But the rules haven’t stopped partnerships that continue to raise concerns. These agreements add to a climate of doubt in which players already wonder whether team physicians are more loyal to their patients or the clubs that pay their salaries.

“The players want to trust you,” said veteran defensive back Troy Vincent, the president of the NFL Players Association. “But we know there’s a business side that sometimes sneaks its way in and causes a little bit of a conflict of interest.”

In many cities, the health care provider that employs team physicians pays the franchise sponsorship money and advertises its affiliation with the club, giving both sides financial incentives to continue the relationship.

Aiello said the NFL isn’t concerned the potential for conflicts remains under the current rules.

Players’ rights to seek a second opinion, to choose their own surgeons and to retain their medical records serve as checks and balances, Aiello said. Vincent agreed players exercising their right to a second opinion is critical to ensuring quality care.

But Vincent would like to see the NFL put more effort into enforcing restrictions by investigating whether current arrangements violate policy.

“Clubs are obligated to review any proposed medical sponsorship arrangement with our office in advance of finalizing an agreement,” Aiello said.

The recent focus on concussions and former players’ health problems emphasizes the importance of proper medical care.

“Morally and ethically, these men want to do what’s right,” Vincent said. “This is their livelihood. But sometimes you intermingle in the business side and what it does is distort views.”

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