COLUMBUS — Chiropractors will join doctors to develop guidelines for clearing young athletes for play after head injuries, as the two groups debate over who has the medical expertise to assess concussions and setting up potential changes to state requirements.
Ohio law requires coaches, volunteers and officials in youth sports organizations to pull from games or practices any player who shows concussion-like symptoms until the player is cleared by a doctor, or a licensed health care provider working in consultation with a physician. It’s also aimed at educating coaches and parents about head injuries.
The measure was spurred by concerns about the dangers of head injuries to young athletes whose brains are still developing.
President Barack Obama has recently sought to draw attention to the issue, calling for more and better research into the effects and treatment of youth concussions.
The new study committee in Ohio was part of a compromise struck by state lawmakers and inserted late into a midterm budget bill focused on K-12 education. Gov. John Kasich signed the measure this week.
Chiropractors have been fighting for more authority under the rules since the law passed in 2012. But they’ve been unsuccessful in previous attempts to be among those who could clear young players for competition.
Just last year, Kasich vetoed a provision in the state budget that gave chiropractors the authority to return young athletes to action. He said at the time it should be considered separately, with input from all health care professionals.
The matter came up again when lawmakers debated a budget review this year.
The Ohio State Chiropractic Association told senators in May that the Legislature should address the educational requirements of those clearing players.
“It is in my opinion that there are many healthcare professionals in Ohio who are educated and fully capable of practicing concussion management,” Bharon Hoag, the association’s executive director, told the Senate Finance Committee in written testimony.
The new study committee could give chiropractors a pathway for inclusion.
The panel of physicians, chiropractors and the state’s health director will come up with guidelines for the diagnosis, treatment and clearance of concussions and head injuries sustained by athletes. They also will develop the minimum education requirements needed for professionals who will clear players.
The Ohio State Medical Association continues to push against the idea.
After Kasich signed the measure, the group issued a statement calling on the General Assembly to rescind the provision.
“Only a physician is trained to medically assess a youth concussion and properly determine when it is safe for that child to return to play,” said Tim Maglione, the association’s senior director of government relations.
Maglione said in an interview that physician assistants, nurse practitioners, athletic trainers and chiropractors can assist with treating players. But, he said, “at the end of the day a physician needs to be involved in the equation.”
The head of the Ohio Alliance of YMCAs said the organization has not weighed in on the issue, preferring to leave it up to the medical community.
And the CEO of one county YMCA said he hasn’t seen strong feelings from parents either way about who returns athletes to play. “For the 99 percent of the parents, it’s a non-issue,” said Keith Lands of the Tuscarawas County YMCA.
Senate President Keith Faber told reporters some doctors might not have recent experience with diagnosing and treating kids with concussions.
And, Faber added, “There are certainly other professionals that probably have the skill and ability to say,’ OK, your concussion symptoms have gone away; you can get back to play.’”