The Role of the Athletic Trainer in Patient-Centered Care

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July 26, 2017

By Desi Rotenberg, MS, LAT, ATC

Patient-Centered Care (PCC) is a philosophy within the healthcare system that is becoming more of the accepted norm amongst health professionals. While PCC has slowly become an accepted model for standard deliverance of care, it is recently gaining attention as the ideal and preferred system for improving patient health outcomes and overall quality of life. The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine), defines PCC as “providing care that is respectful of, and responsive to, individual patient preferences and needs, ensuring that patient values and best interests guide all clinical decisions1.”

There are three categories of providers that play an integral role in PCC: the role of the patient, the role of the primary care physician and the role of the additional healthcare professionals that will be involved in the patient’s care. Within athletic training, PCC is paramount to the success of the athlete. The PCC team may include, but is not limited to, the Athletic Trainer (AT), the team doctor, physical therapist and nutritionist, in addition to the athlete. In a high school or middle school setting, the parents also provide an important role, in addition to the coaching staff.

From the patient’s perspective, the goal of PCC is to “empower patients to become active participants in their healthcare,” which can be achieved through education, online resources and easy access to knowledgeable professionals.2 From the perspective of the athlete, understanding their health history, as well as, any medical limitations or complications secondary to an injury, will enable him or her to make informed decisions when not in the presence of a clinician (i.e. home exercises, food choices, etc.).

From the perspective of the Primary Care Physician (PCP), PCC requires that the PCP become an advocate for the patient, ensuring that all medical professionals that the patient may see provide healthcare that is not only safe, but is also effective.2 Additionally, it is the responsibility of the PCP to be the front runner on communication with other medical professionals, to ensure that all the patient’s needs are being addressed effectively and in a timely manner.

Lastly, from the perspective of additional medical professionals that are involved with an individual patient, it is paramount that the patient feel a sense of satisfaction, fulfillment and approval with the standard of care, as well as, the outcome. For PCC to be effective, the patient must feel that every professional they interact with helps them feel valued, comfortable and cared for.2 All clinicians should be familiar with and be prepared to distribute material that is appropriate for various patient populations. These materials include, but are not limited to: pamphlets, online programs, community events or group education sessions.3

Often, ATs can be in a unique position to work with additional medical professionals either through patient referral or through working with a special population and by being a part of the PCC team, enables the athlete to return to optimal functioning following an injury, health concern or lifestyle alteration.

An AT can be prepared to work with the PCC team through checking that all athlete information is readily available to share with medical specialists that may be involved. Additionally, an AT should have the contact information of specialists on hand for better inter-specialist communication. Since the AT will most likely have the most face to face contact with the athlete, this communication is vital to ensure that the AT can help facilitate the appropriate course of action and that the athlete’s health and medical needs are being met. This will assist all individuals involved in making appropriate and informed decisions regarding the athlete’s care.

A vital aspect of PCC and the importance of each medical professional associated with a patient, is to ensure that patients are “being educated and motivated to become better stewards of their health and more active participants in the management of their current or oncoming diseases.” 3 This can be done through ensuring that all patient materials and documents given are culturally relevant, incorporate goal setting and acknowledge patients as partners, rather than mere recipients, of their care.3 Within the context of goal setting, objective data is necessary to assist the patient in achieving self-driven, intrinsic motivation towards a healthier lifestyle - this can be accomplished through “easy-to-use and inexpensive self-management systems that are readily available to patients.” 3 This will ensure that there is a constant line of communication between clinician and patient, which can allow the clinician to provide feedback based on the patient’s objective data and will then allow the patient to be aware of the positive and potentially harmful lifestyle choices they may be engaged in.

PCC is a vital part of 21st century healthcare. In a time where knowledge is easily accessible, it is the responsibility of the healthcare team (AT, PT, PCP, Patient and additional health professionals) to ensure that patients and athletes are aware of their lifestyle choices and how those choices are regularly and actively contributing to their global health. The medical and healthcare industry are centered on knowledge; if knowledge is power, then we as ATs have the opportunity and responsibility to empower our patients through education and help each individual we encounter achieve their greatest self.

  1. National Institute of Medicine
  2. Reynolds, A. (2009). Patient-centered care. Radiologic Technology, 81(2), 133-147.
  3. Walsh, M. N., Bove, A. A., Cross, R. R., Ferdinand, K. C., Forman, D. E., Freeman, A. M., & MacDonnell, B. (2012). ACCF 2012 health policy statement on patient-centered care in cardiovascular medicine. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 59(23), 2125-2143.


About the Author

Desi rotenberg

Desi Rotenberg, originally from Denver, Colorado, graduated with his bachelor's degree in 2012 from the University of Northern Colorado. He has been a BOC Certified Athletic Trainer since 2012 and earned his master's degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Central Florida in 2014. He currently is a high school teacher, teaching anatomy/physiology and leadership development. Along with being a teacher, he wears many hats, such as basketball coach, curriculum developer and mentor. He has been a contributor to the BOC Blog since the summer of 2015.

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