Some physicians and communities say it can’t be done, and some say the costs outweigh the benefits. Jonesboro Arkansas’ largest physician group and most advanced medical center are doing it – sponsoring physicals for every single student athlete – and have been for many years.
Healthcare Medical Group (HMG), Northeast Arkansas’ largest physician group, in conjunction with St. Bernards Medical Center staff and St. Bernards Sports Medicine, recognizes a community need to ensure the safety and health of local student athletes.
As part of the annual HMG Health and Fitness Expo, which attracts 15,000 visitors each April, the more than 175 HMG physicians donate their time and energy to offer sports physicals to area school athletes at no charge. Young athletes entering 6-12 grades, from six different school systems, will receive the country’s most comprehensive physical and for high school students that includes EKGs.
Every student athlete entering grades 9-12 will be given an EKG. This test can detect some problems that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest, a tragic condition that claims the life of an American athlete every three days. The EKGs are being done with the assistance of Cardiology Associates, with special funding from a grant underwritten by Boston Scientific.
These heart-related tests – along with eye, ear-nose-and-throat, orthopedic, height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, sickle cell, glucose and anemia screenings – help make sure that student athletes are healthy enough to safely participate in school sports. Junior high students will receive the same screenings, minus the EKG.
HMG physicians volunteer their time to see about 1,100 2011 school year athletes from Brookland, Jonesboro, Valley View, Nettleton, Westside, and Ridgefield Christian School. (All students are required to have physicals completed prior to participating in school athletic programs.)
The physicals are offered at no charge. The effort benefits families of athletes, coaches and the athletes themselves. Because of the one-stop approach to the physicals, parents do not have to schedule physical exams with their individual family physicians then get youngsters into doctors’ offices for the appointments. And, obviously, they do not incur the expense involved in physician appointments.
Coaches benefit because they can assemble all their athletes in one place at one time and do not have to wonder about some students missing exam appointments with family physicians.
The EKGs being performed add a layer of sophistication to exams that puts this community head and shoulders above any other community in the U.S. The 12-lead EKGs can detect diseases with heart rhythm that may put young athletes at increased risk for sudden cardiac death.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (a publication of the American College of Physicians) indicates that every year, one in three young athletes die unexpectedly in the United States. And most of those deaths are attributed to underlying structural heart disease.
The article notes that though the risk for sudden cardiac death for the young competitive athletes is low – 2 per 100,000 – it is more than two and a half times that of the age-matched non-athlete population. The risk for sudden cardiac death becomes more likely with increasing peak intensity level of competition.
The use of EKGs as a screening tool – when added to focused personal histories, family histories and physical exams – helps detect cardiac abnormalities in young athletes. It is a proven way to save lives of young athletes.
School athlete physicals are scheduled for Sunday afternoon, April 17, as a part of the activities of the last day of this year’s HMG Expo at the Convocation Center on the Arkansas State University campus. Student athletes in the six schools taking part in the program are to report to the Blue Entrance to the Convocation Center at times directed by their respective athletic directors.
St. Bernards Sports Medicine partners four of the districts by providing another unique service – placing certified athletic trainers in the schools at no cost to the districts. The certified athletic trainers work with coaches and students and are on hand for practices as well as games.
HMG Health & Fitness Expo is a free two day event focusing on the promotion of better health for Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri. Scheduled for April 16th & 17th this year at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center, the Expo offers free health screenings for the entire community, physician panel discussions, healthy cooking demonstrations, and a kid’s health zone. It is the largest and most comprehensive physician-led event in the country.