Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

March 25, 2013

Column: Medical timeout worthy of quick adoption

— Being unprepared when a significant injury or sudden illness takes place at an athletic contest is a “nightmare scenario” that can and should be avoided.

That makes the “game-day medical timeout” an important concept, to be implemented as soon as possible.

The medical timeout is a meeting, half an hour before an athletic event, among athletic trainers from the teams involved, emergency medical service (EMS) personnel, team physicians if available, a couple of assistant coaches, law enforcement and a school administrator.

The purpose is to assess what equipment and procedures are available for use in the event of a medical emergency and to go over plans for dealing with first-level treatment of the more common injuries or illnesses.

The group would talk about such things as where is the nearest hospital, and how is the best way to get there.

They would find out who has keys to open gates and building entrances to get access to necessary materials — or to get an ambulance onto an outdoor playing field.

They would go over hand signals, or cellphone numbers, to be used if the first responder needs to communicate with other members of the group.

They would know, among other things, how they would respond efficiently if a fan had a heart attack in the stands.

They would see the defibrillators, catheters and other life-saving equipment laid out in front of the ambulance before they were needed.

The concept received positive response last weekend during the first Sports Medicine Conference to be held in southern West Virginia. The conference, attended by approximately 95 people, is conducted annually by the West Virginia Athletic Trainers’ Association.

This year’s meeting took place at Concord University. Its lead team physician, Dr. Jim Kyle, advised the group that the medical timeout is about to be tried out at varsity football games.

“In southern West Virginia, we’re going to test that out next year,” he said Saturday.

He and Dr. Joe Beckett, professor and director of Concord’s Athletic Training Education Program, should be commended for their work in getting this proposal up and running.

But in some sports, it is sad to say, the medical timeout could be a short and sparsely-attended meeting.

There are holes lurking under the surface of the proposal, no matter how sincere its inventors are. It’s beyond their control. It has to do with money.

Athletic trainers are mandated to be on hand for certain high school varsity contests — especially football — in West Virginia. That appears not to be the case for all sports.

Staffing all sporting events with athletic trainers and doctors during an academic year, including junior varsity and middle school levels, would undoubtedly be an expensive proposition in a day when many sports do not take in enough gate receipts to pay for officials.

Some schools don’t have an ambulance on hand. There were reports during the conference that some counties have one ambulance to deploy, and two or more high schools at which games might be held simultaneously.

Having a physician on the sidelines is a plus, of course, but not all communities have a doctor willing to donate his or her time. And unless the doctor is a general practitioner, there might be a gap in his or her expertise to assess a sports injury.

As one participant at the conference said on Saturday, “You don’t want a podiatrist running a cardiac arrest (intervention).”

If I had the magic answer for how to fund adequate medical coverage at all sporting events, I’d already have shared it with anyone who would listen.

But rather than wait for such magic, it is vitally important to commit to the pledge that all steps possible be taken to ensure that an injured or ill athlete is treated adequately, quickly and professionally, from the minute the whistle blows to stop play.

The game-day medical timeout is one of those important steps.

I hope it will not require years of debate, and the convening of a couple of study committees, before our state governing bodies mandate this, for the athletes’ sake.

The question I had last weekend, but did not get a chance to ask, was, “Why has it taken so long?”

*****

Tom Bone is a Daily Telegraph sports writer and cartoonist. Contact him at tbone @ bdtonline.com.

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