In these challenging economic times, even the most efficient medical offices, hospitals and clinics are looking for ways to increase productivity. In light of the national shortage of health care workers today, one profession that has proven effective in achieving productivity is athletic training, particularly when members work as "physician extenders" in clinical environments. According to the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA), using physician extenders in medical and hospital practices can result in time savings, patient satisfaction, increased revenue, increased physician productivity and efficiency, and more effective patient education.

"Far from the athletic fields, athletic trainers and other physician extenders help improve productivity, patient outcomes and satisfaction at clinics and hospitals nationwide," said Marjorie J. Albohm, MS, ATC, NATA president. "That's why they are so often employed in the physician offices and specialty practices, including specialists in orthopaedic, osteopath, family, pediatric, and sports medicine."

Athletic trainers' vital role in hospitals, clinics and physicians' offices

The athletic trainer serves a vital role in this setting by reducing re-injury rates through patient instruction; reducing recovery time from non-surgical injuries; rehabilitating musculoskeletal injures and achieving the same if not better outcomes than other health care professionals.

"Athletic trainers are a committed, essential component to physicians delivering the highest standard of team medical care to the patients of the Andrews Institute," said James Andrews, MD. "They know how to relate to the patient so his or her recovery is as quick as safely allowable, whether that person is a professional or youth athlete or just an average mom or dad."

According to NATA, a time-to-task study showed that athletic trainers working as physician extenders increased the efficacy of the physician offices by 12 patients per day. In their growing role as physician extenders, athletic trainers help not only hospitals, but also clinics and physician offices, achieve the following:

- Time savings - Athletic trainers help move patients faster through the appointment and treatment process.

- Patient satisfaction - Patients like the personal care and attention that athletic trainers provide.

- Hitting revenue goals - Athletic training services are reimbursable by many insurance companies, and services are either directly billed or billed incident-to physician services; and with an average salary of $48,179, they are competitive with other health care professionals.

- Increase physician productivity and efficiency - allowing the office to treat more patients in the same amount of time.

- Bolster patient education - Understanding their path to recovery helps put patients' minds at ease.

"My patients experience excellent outcomes as a result of therapy provided by athletic trainers," said Thomas D. Kohl, MD, director of sports medicine at the Comprehensive Athletic Treatment Center in Pennsylvania. "My patients love working with them. Athletic trainers are a value-added service to my practice. I could not do without them."

Professional training leads to better health care coordination

Athletic trainers have the background that enables them to work closely with physicians and other medical personnel in the development and coordination of efficient and responsive health care delivery systems. Their training equips them with the expertise needed to perform immediate and emergency injury management, injury assessment and rehabilitation.

"Athletic trainers help enhance a physician's communication with patients by serving as another source of expert information that patients can absorb," said John Xerogeanes, MD, at Emory Sports Medicine Center in Atlanta. "Athletic trainers are a key part of our sports medicine service delivery model."

The athletic trainer's professional preparation is based on the achievement of specified educational competencies and clinical proficiencies. Through a combination of formal classroom and clinical instruction complemented by clinical experience, athletic trainers are prepared to provide health care within each of the following content areas:

- Risk management and injury prevention
- Pathology of injuries and illnesses
- Orthopaedic clinical examination and diagnosis
- Medical conditions and disabilities
- Acute care of injury and illnesses
- Therapeutic modalities
- Conditioning, rehabilitative exercise and referral
- Pharmacology
- Psychosocial intervention and referral
- Nutritional aspects of injury and illnesses
- Health care administration

Athletic trainers must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree (70 percent have a master's degree or higher) and they must maintain certification through the Board of Certification, an organization independent of NATA. Athletic trainers differ from "personal trainers" who focus solely on fitness and conditioning and have vastly different education and certification requirements.

Physicians, clinic managers and others wishing to learn more about athletic trainers can contact the National Athletic Trainers' Association at 214-637-6282, or visit the NATA Career Center directly at nata/careercenter.

National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) - Health Care for Life & Sport: Athletic trainers are unique health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses. The National Athletic Trainers' Association represents and supports 30,000 members of the athletic training profession. NATA advocates for equal access to athletic trainers for patients and clients of all ages and supports H.R. 1846. Only 42 percent of high schools have access to athletic trainers. NATA members adhere to a code of ethics.


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