Dec 12, 2018Suited for New Settings
Athletic trainers (ATs) have been shown to be a valuable addition to urgent care centers, especially as these locations become utilized more and more for sports medicine-related injuries. For those individuals who have successfully challenged the American Society of Orthopedic Professionals’ (ASOP) Orthopedic Physician Extender (OPE-CTM) Certification examination and have taken that value-added step to elevate their clinical specialty, they will undoubtedly prove to be a seamless fit into the urgent care/primary care practice. As of 2017, there were more than approximately 7,500 urgent care centers in the United States with an expected 5.8 percent growth rate through 2018 .  Each year, urgent care centers provide care for nearly 160 million U.S. patients. 
Urgent care centers are the new primary care doctors and may just be the future of sports medicine departments. Primary care facilities will conduct school and team physicals and now are open for orthopedic injuries to manage those musculoskeletal injuries that happen over the weekend. Furthermore, many orthopedic physicians are now aligning themselves with urgent care centers to refer such injuries for specialized follow-up and even those cases that may require surgical consideration.
Paralleling the growth of urgent care centers has been the increased use of athletic trainers in the orthopedic setting. There’s no reason to think athletic trainers can’t be just as valuable in the urgent care setting as they already are in the orthopedic setting. Particularly, if they have the orthopedic physician extender certification (OPE-CTM).
The orthopedic extender position (OPE) for the athletic trainer continues to be a vast growth opportunity within the profession. An OPE is a highly educated healthcare specialist who works directly under the orthopedic physician in a guided, supervised manner to provide:
1. Orthopedic triage
2. Orthopedic examination and clinical assessment
3. Orthopedic casting and bracing
4. Diagnostic imaging review/intervention support
5. Provide patient education/guidance.
In the urgent care center, the Athletic Trainer in tandem with the OPE certification can be the orthopedic physician’s go-to person and serve as an initial resource for managing the disposition of the walk-in patient. As a result and already demonstrated, this individual can have a remarkable impact on the clinical practice. Here are some of the benefits they can provide:
• Time savings: Athletic trainers can more efficiently guide patients through their appointment and any subsequent treatment management. 
• Patient satisfaction: Athletic trainers can answer patient concerns before and after appointments—and as such, patients report that they appreciate this level of one-on-one attention. [2, 1]
• Revenue: Athletic training services can be billed and are often reimbursable. One study found that utilizing an athletic trainer as a physician extender increased revenue $200 to $1,200 per day, while another identified a 42 percent revenue increase. [4, 5]
• Increases physician productivity and efficiency: Using an athletic trainer as a physician extender, more patients can be treated in a given time. One study noted it can add three to four patients per day , while another study say patient throughput increased an average of 20 percent.  A third study showed athletic trainers led to a 23 percent bump in productivity. 
• Patient Education: When patients are more informed about their injury and treatment, it alleviates concerns and helps recovery go smoother. 
Several studies have already found the benefits of incorporating athletic trainers in the orthopedic sports medicine environment. [2, 3, 4, 5] With the value-added perspective of the OPE-CTM, athletic trainers will elevate their clinical specialty in an effort to further improve efficiency, revenue, and overall clinical results.
For more information on the certification and credentialing process, please visit: www.OPEcertification.org.
- National Athletic Trainers’ Association. (2005). Certified Athletic Trainers in Physician Offices Unique Health Care Providers.
- Pecha, F. Q., Nicolello, T. S., Xerogeanes, J. W., Karas, S., & Labib, S. A. (2015). Patient Perceptions of Athletic Trainers and Orthopaedic Medical Residents as Primary Clinical Support Staff in Sports Medicine Practice. Journal of Allied Health, 44(4), 225-228a. Retrieved from https://atpps.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Patient-Perceptions-of-Athletic-Trainers-and.pdf
- Westerman, B. J., Frogner, B. K., & Dipietro, L. (2015). Hiring Patterns of Athletic Trainers in Ambulatory Care Settings. International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training, 20(5), 39-42. doi:10.1123/ijatt.2014-0101
- Pecha, F. Q., Xerogeanes, J. W., Karas, S. G., Himes, M. E., & Mines, B. A. (2013). Comparison of the Effect of Medical Assistants Versus Certified Athletic Trainers on Patient Volumes and Revenue Generation in a Sports Medicine Practice. Sports Health, 5(4), 337–339. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738112472659
- Pecha, F. Q., Karas, S. G., Xerogeanes, J., Dougherty, T., Mines, B., Labib, S., & Kane, A. (2007). Certified Athletic Trainers: An Evaluation of Their Effect on Patient Throughput and Revenue Generation in a Primary Care Sports Medicine Practice [The Emory Sports Medicine Clinic with permissions to NATA]. Emory Sports Medicine Center, Atlanta, GA.
- Pecha, F., Greene, J., Daley, J., & Shea, K. (2013, July/August). Integrating Physician Assistants and Athletic Trainers into Your Orthopaedic Practice. Sports Medicine Update, 2-4.
- Urgent Care Association of America. Available at: http://www.ucaoa.org/?page=IndustryFAQs