The goal of a good outcome remains the same regardless of the public profile of the patient, but physicians say their centers do take steps to shield players from unwanted attention. Henry Ford employs a concierge who coordinates care among physicians, the player, and the team, Dr. Jones said. Sometimes, he said, players are able to enter at a different location than the general public. Sometimes, he goes to see them rather than having them come to the medical center. “It depends on the person,” Dr. Jones said. “Some players are escorted; they may come in through a back entrance. For some of the players, I’ve actually gone to the sports arenas to evaluate them.”
Explore This IssueApril 2019
Dr. Kearney said professional athletes coming to see him are typically not forced to stay in the main waiting area. “They are susceptible to their illnesses becoming public spectacle,” he said. “So if they’re coming into your office to be seen, if you keep them waiting out in your waiting area, it can be awkward for the athlete. People will wind up coming up to them, asking [them] to sign autographs or asking questions about why they’re seeing the doctor, things that people would not normally do to another patient. … I have always tried to go out of my way to help to preserve these athletes’ privacy.”
Professionalism and Availability
With time, otolaryngologists said it gets easier to regard the dynamic with a pro athlete as a typical physician–patient relationship, without worrying that inclinations as a fan will get in the way. Any references to their performance, they say, should be only for the purpose of rapport, much as they might converse with any other patient.
After a seven-foot-tall basketball player had a nasal bone fracture, Dr. Jones kidded him that he might have avoided the injury if only he had stood up tall and hadn’t had to bend down all that distance to pick the basketball up off the court. And, after a high draft pick in football had an unfavorable outing in his Eagles debut and got booed on his home field, Dr. Kearney good-naturedly told him, “Welcome to Philly.”
In the end, though, it’s professionalism that should guide the way, they say.
An indispensable ingredient in taking care of pro athletes is being available when they need care, they say. Usually, they can treat the player when needed. But if not, they find someone who can. “The nice thing about being in a large group practice is that we have redundancy,” said Dr. Jones at Henry Ford. “So, if for some reason I’m not available, there’s usually somebody available who can address the issue.”
“When I was in medical school, an otolaryngologist told me the three keys to success are availability, affability, and ability—in that order,” Dr. Larsen said. “And at the end of the day, even before I was associated with the Royals or any professional sports players, I would try to always be available for my patients and try to see as many people as I possibly could in a day while taking good care of them. And I think applying that philosophy … goes a long way with patients.”