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Pandemic Prompts Push to Expand Athletic Trainer Scope of Practice

Pennsylvania’s governor, Tom Wolf, signed an executive order in early May 2020 with the express purpose of affording health care practitioners protection against liability for good faith actions taken in response to the call to supplement the health care provider workforce battling coronavirus (COVID-19).

During the pandemic and declared disaster, Governor Wolf suspended multiple regulations and statutes which expanded scope of practice. These actions relaxed supervision requirements for health care licensees, such as Athletic Trainers (ATs), and allowed them to perform acts that in the ordinary course of practice, they would not be authorized to do. This action is currently earmarked to remain in effect for the duration of the emergency.

While the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers’ Society (PATS) had already been working to expand the scope of practice for ATs, the onset of COVID-19 brought this issue to the forefront. ATs found themselves being shifted into different settings due to the need for additional support in clinical settings as well as work slowdowns or stoppages in their respective programs. Many ATs transitioned to hospitals, for example, screening patients, doing triage, delivering prescriptions through outpatient services, assisting with home exercise programs, among many other functions. Tanya Miller, MS, LAT, ATC, CES, found herself working remotely from home managing patients via telehealth.

“Our governor loosened regulations immediately with health care professionals,” said Miller. “He looked for ways to relax regulations to assist with the pandemic and facilitate care. Anyone with the ability to help was impacted in order to serve our communities.”

According to Miller, who is Governmental Affairs Committee Chair for PATS, her organization’s goal is to make these scope of practice changes permanent and ongoing, enhancing the ability of ATs to provide athletic training services to all individuals. With expansion of the population they are able to serve, ATs can reach a broader audience. She says a handful of states are looking to expand practice as well but face varying situations and levels of restriction. PATS is working with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) and a state lobbyist to advance permanent change.

“We were extremely excited when Governor Wolf enacted this change and we want to keep building on it,” Miller said. “Expansion of scope of practice will open up job options in areas such as emergency care and community health. AT work has expanded beyond athletics over the years, and roles in preventative medicine have increased versus reactive medicine.”

To achieve success, two key points need to be addressed, according to Miller: 1) remove the population of physically active person definition and 2) address the term invasive procedures in relation to physician direction.

Her recommendation for state AT organizations working to advance expansions similar to PATS’ efforts in Pennsylvania is to make the best use of current timing, find legislators to champion the AT cause, counter competition to regulation of this nature and find physician advocates to support your efforts.

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