Effective on February 4, 2016, sports team physicians visiting Pennsylvania with their teams from outside the state will now be permitted to treat their players in Pennsylvania without fear of violating Pennsylvania law. Previously, visiting team doctors technically could not treat their own players without a Pennsylvania medical license.
Pennsylvania is not the first state to adopt this approach, which ensures that athletes, no matter where they are playing, are treated by the physicians who know them best. It is not likely to be the last state to do so either, given the heightened sensitivity and litigation surrounding the health and safety of athletes at all levels of participation.
What Physicians Need to Know
The new amendment to Pennsylvania’s Medical Practice Act exempts visiting sports team physicians from Pennsylvania’s licensure requirements, provided that the physician has an agreement with a sports team to treat team members and coaches traveling with the team for a specific sporting event in the state. The exemption also extends in certain circumstances to doctors invited by a national sport governing body (e.g., U.S. Soccer Federation) to provide services within the state at a national training center or an event or competition sanctioned by that governing body.
While visiting Pennsylvania for the event, the exempt physician may not treat anyone other than the team’s players and coaching staff or practice medicine at a health care clinic or facility; the exemption is good for 10 days per sporting event, and, with prior authorization, may last for up to 30 days per event. The law provides little guidance as to whether local standards will apply to the visiting team physician’s activities, but does (somewhat circularly) provide that the Pennsylvania licensing board is permitted to enter into agreements with the boards from other states to facilitate implementation of the exemption, including procedures for reporting medical license violations (notwithstanding that the visiting physicians may act without a Pennsylvania license).
Each U.S. state independently regulates the practice of medicine. Consequently, this new law, while positive, addresses team physician activity only in Pennsylvania. Teams and their medical practitioners are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the laws of all states in which they may diagnose or treat players or other team staff.