Giving Young Athletes Access to the Same Orthopedic Care as the Pros

While training as a sports medicine fellow with world-renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, M.D., Dustin Loveland, M.D., learned to use innovative techniques to help top professional and collegiate athletes get back on the field. Today, Dr. Loveland is on a mission to give young athletes in North Texas access to the same cutting-edge care as those elite professionals.

That’s why he joined Children's Health℠ Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in 2015 to help build one of the nation’s most advanced access models. This model ensures that young athletes can access everything from physicians to imaging to physical therapy in a single visit, which typically takes place the same day or following day of their injury. It also provides multidisciplinary care and services – including access to sports performance training – throughout the patient’s recovery, under one roof.

“We’re able to fast track patients so they can get elite care right when they need it – just like pro athletes,” says Dr. Loveland, Surgical Director and Chief, “and we’re constantly innovating to make our services even more streamlined and accessible, so we can help young athletes recover better and safely return to sports faster.”

An Inside Look at the Access Model

Our elite care often begins before the athlete even arrives at our Plano clinic. Through our outreach program, 50 certified athletic trainers are on-site at schools and sports organizations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and on the sidelines during an average of 100 school sporting events per month.

“Our trainers evaluate injuries almost in real-time and can fast track the patient to our clinic or the ER as needed,” Dr. Loveland says.

When a patient arrives at the clinic, an athletic trainer does the initial intake before the patient sees an advanced practice provider and physician. This helps ensure each patient is seen quickly while maximizing the physician’s time. If advanced imaging is needed, radiologists trained in musculoskeletal imaging are available at all times.

“The typical care delivery model in this space is to schedule MRIs one to two weeks after the initial visit,” Dr. Loveland explains. “When we shifted to providing all imaging in the same visit and having specialized radiologists available to collaborate with physicians, it was a key turning point in expediting care.”

In the same facility as the imaging center, patients can access physical therapy and Children’s Health Andrews Institute Sports Performance Powered by EXOS. This is a professional athlete-level approach adapted for our youth patients.

“Having all these services in our 185,000 square-foot facility means that patients can easily move from one service to the next, whether it's in a single visit or throughout the patient journey,” Dr. Loveland says. “It also makes it really easy for our multidisciplinary team to collaborate in real-time.”

This model enables our clinic to be the busiest in the region, often treating more than 50 patients per provider per day, while ensuring each patient receives the comprehensive care they need to have the best outcomes.

How Quick Access Changed the Game for a Varsity Football Starter

When a starting varsity offensive lineman at a local high school injured his knee during one of the first practices of the 2020 season, he was immediately evaluated by an on-site athletic trainer and taken to the clinic.

“We got him an X-ray right away, which ruled out a fracture, and then we moved forward with an MRI,” Dr. Loveland says. “I reviewed the MRI images in real-time with one of our specialized radiologists, and we confirmed he had torn his ACL. We then assessed that the growth plates were fully formed, which determines the surgical treatment options.”

By the time the patient got back to the room from imaging, his MRI scans were on the screen and Dr. Loveland was prepared to discuss the diagnosis and treatment plan.

“With an ACL injury, patients need at least a couple of weeks of physical therapy to reduce swelling before surgery, so that’s the first component of the treatment plan,” Dr. Loveland explains. “We immediately took this patient next door to physical therapy to ice his knee and begin the prehabilitation exercises.”

The patient left his first visit with his surgery schedule and physical therapy plan. The physical therapist and Dr. Loveland were in close communication over the next two weeks, discussing the patient’s progress leading up to the surgery date.

Dr. Loveland used the patellar tendon graft technique for the surgery, a treatment he has performed many times for professional athletes.

“Every patient’s treatment plan is individualized,” Dr. Loveland says. “This patient was 16 years old, weighed about 260 pounds and was a dedicated athlete. Our surgical technique provides low retear rates, and the patellar tendon graft is a safe procedure for young athletes who have fully formed growth plates. We moved forward with this procedure to give him the lowest possible risk of retear as he continues his athletic career.”

Returning to the Field Stronger than Before

After surgery, the patient began with his rehabilitation physical therapy three days per week. Sports performance powered by EXOS became part of the weekly routine as he progressed.

“The physical therapists and athletic trainers coordinate together so each patient has the right mix of rehabilitation and performance,” Dr. Loveland says. “For this patient, using the weight room and doing sled pushes and other exercises in our facility was really beneficial.”

Six months after surgery, Dr. Loveland began baseline functional testing to assess deficits in quadricep and hamstring strengths. He continued to gauge month-over-month progress to determine when the patient could safely return to the field.

“He was released 12 months after the injury, and not only had he fully recovered, but he was leaner, more muscular and stronger than he was before the injury,” Dr. Loveland says. “He received the same treatment and services in the same timeframe as any NFL lineman, which ensured an optimal outcome and the best patient experience.”

Making Pro-Athlete Care Even More Accessible

In 2022, Children’s Health Andrews Institute will begin rolling out satellite locations so our medical providers are even closer to where young athletes need them. The team will be on-site at certain school locations as well as present in a community clinic.

“We’re always innovating and expanding to make it as easy as possible for our patients to get an early evaluation and begin the treatment they need to recover and become even stronger,” Dr. Loveland says. 

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