Compartmentalizing the Ethical Issues in Sports Medicine

Compartmentalizing the Ethical Issues in Sports Medicine Sports medicine seems to have a special problem that many in the health care section do not. It seems that sports medicine is something different. It is not placed in the usual patient-physical therapist setting. Rather, there is another ingredient to the recipe- the team. Because of this unique set-up, there are certain considerations as well as certain problems only those who are part of the sports medicine affiliation can relate to.

It may seem odd to be compartmentalizing the ethical issues in sports medicine. But, sadly, this is the case. There are some considerations that have to be taken care of, apart from the health issues that a certain athlete may experience. It is not just the health that the physical therapist is dealing with. The PT may also consider the scholarship, the education and even the career of a certain athlete. Where and how will the physical therapist draw the line? How will the PT address the athlete’s condition when there are other people or participants in the physical therapy regimen?

The importance of consent

Athletes, being the patient, should be treated as patients more than being an athlete. So when there are aggressive treatments that needed to be considered, the said athlete must be informed of the benefits, the risk involved and some other alternative courses of action or treatment. There are situations that the physical therapist has to call a decision in the middle of a game, and there are those situations that the decisions are made in the locker room or the clinic. It is the first situation where ethical concerns are more highlighted. A thorough consent is needed so that the athlete would understand what is going on, as well as what kind of medical condition he is facing so that the said athlete would be able to provide a sane and justifiable decision about his or her medical welfare. Of course, one cannot deny that other conditions might affect the decision of the athlete since the motivation to play might be stronger than the will to consider the medical factors he or she is facing. Being the physical therapist on site, you need to inform the athlete of the condition without pressuring the said athlete of the decision made as per what the outcome of the game would be. A physical therapist must give a thorough consent which should include the following conditions:

  • The PT providing information on the condition, the kind of treatment, some other alternative treatments and what the benefits as well as the risks involved.
  • The PT should also provide alternative courses of action without coercing the patient.
  • The PT should assess how the patient has understood the medical condition as well the courses of action.
  • The PT should assess whether the athlete is able to provide logical decisions based on the conditions present.

The athlete and the parents

In certain conditions, the aspirations of the athlete can be matched by his or her parents. What should the physical therapist do? If the athlete is not an adult, the physical therapist should prioritize the needs of the child. Parents should be asked and the child be allowed to speak his or her opinions if that said child is old enough to have rational decisions. Most 14-year olds and above that age can already give reasonable and logical opinions. Child athletes are still children and they are still patients when they have injuries. As patients, like any other patients, would like to have their opinions heard as well.

But how about when the situation needs to be weighed more deeply as such in the situation of a young athlete where treatments may vary from short-term advantage so the said child can play as soon as possible to the kind of condition where the treatment may cause some more serious damage to the child or his athletic aspirations. What would the physical therapist do? How would you choose?

There are basically four conditions that you, being the physical therapist, need to suffice in order to reach the decision as to what kind of treatment should be followed.

  • The PT should help educate the patient on the nature of the medical condition present.
  • The PT should inform the patient of the consequences of the courses of action.
  • The PT must assess how the patient or athlete is able to process the decision making by knowing how the patient understands the conditions and the factors that play around it.
  •  The PT should ask for the preparedness of the patient for the decided treatment without pressure

As with the case of an student who is no longer a minor, the decision comes from the patient himself or herself. The physical therapist is not even allowed to discuss the kind of decision that came up with the parents of the athlete, without the said athlete written consent.

The professional athlete

By far, this person may provide another challenge to the PT working with the said athlete. Not only is the athlete old enough to make decisions on his or her own, the said athlete has to consider the effects of the decision on the compensation received. The decision basically relies whether it would be the end of the said athlete’s career, the loss of confidence among teammates or the loss of income. All three are major considerations that needed to be processed properly.

First, education on certain kinds of medication must be given by the PT or any member of the medical staff . The PT must educate the athlete how these kinds of medication should be limited, applied and so on. The physical therapist must assess the nature of the injury, the complications of the treatment of the said condition as well as the impact of the medical condition on both short-term and long-term goals. The physical therapist should also consider the time left in the game, when the injury happened in-game.

Sports medicine and the relation to physical therapy is more pronounced and more intricate than other specialties. Though there are external factors that play around it, the physical therapist should bear in mind that it is still the welfare of the athlete that is the priority. What do you think?


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