Sports Medicine

For years, the Boston Red Sox received care from UMass Medical (despite the fact that the campus is not particularly close to Fenway Park). After team physician Arthur Pappas* retired, Sox care fell to Dr. Bill Morgan. He made a lucrative deal with St. Elizabeth's in Brighton, and sent the Sox players to his new sports medicine center there. Then, a few years ago, Beth Israel-Deaconness became the Sox care center, though Bill Morgan stayed on as team physician.

Now, the winds of change are blowing again:

The Red Sox are reportedly negotiating with Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Hospital for the care of their players. Morgan is employed in Brighton at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, which is also believed to be bidding to care for Sox players.

Though the Sox established a relationship with Beth Israel shortly after the current ownership took control of the team, recent indications suggest Sox players will end up under the care of doctors at Mass. General.

These maneuvers are big business, even here in New York (where Sox cap sightings currently outnumber Yankees caps 3:1). NYU Med Center apparently paid the Mets a lot to be the caretakers of New York's other baseball team. And even though they advertise it prominently, even this relationship isn't clear cut:

The widely respected Altcheck, who is associated with the Hospital for Special Surgery, was replaced in 2001 when NYU and the Hospital for Joint Diseases paid the Mets for the right to provide the team physicians.

In a carefully worded release, the Mets claimed the two sides amicably ended their association. But the Mets were a medical mess last season.

Obviously sports teams want the best physicians and resources to get their injured athletes back on the field. And obviously hospitals want to show people that they've got such physicians in their ranks.

I only bring this up because, at some level, the privilege of caring for sports figures amounts to hired celebrity endorsements for hospitals. There are many ways to attract patients to a particular hospital, but this method isn't particularly grounded in the patient's best interests. Why not tout improved outcomes or other evidence-based data? Wouldn't you rather have surgery at a place with the lowest complication rates, instead of just going where Pedro goes? Wouldn't your answer be influenced if Pedro's team was reimbursed for the chance to care for him?

People routinely criticize pharmaceutical companies for vague direct-to-consumer advertising. They say it's wasteful spending and gives patients false impressions. I have yet to hear these people, however, speak out against hospitals involved in a similar practice. This issue will only grow larger as more hospitals seek, and advertise, relationships with sports teams and celebrities.

*Full disclosure: I once rode in an elevator with Dr. Arthur Pappas.