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Finance - How to ... meet the demand for a sportsinjury clinic

For GPs keen to practise sports medicine, the private healthcare sector is a must.

Demand for sports injury clinics is already high and expected to increase in the run-up to the London Olympics in 2012. A survey last year concluded that a third of the population suffer 22 million sports injuries annually. Someone regularly playing a sport is likely to have 1.65 injuries a year.

Qualifications

An interest in sports medicine is vital. Study for either a postgraduate diploma or an MSc in sports medicine before opening a clinic. See the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine's website (www.basem.co.uk) for courses including modular and distance-learning courses.

Taster courses

BASEM is setting up taster courses so that doctors can find out if sports medicine is really for them before spending money on studying. The royal colleges also have plans to establish a faculty of sports medicine.

Private or NHS clinic?

Success in persuading your PCO to fund a sports injury clinic is unlikely so it will need to be a private clinic. Probably the quickest way to set up a service would be at the surgery, with your partners' agreement. Pay them part of the clinic's income in lieu of rent.

Options for premises

If the surgery is unsuitable, consider approaching the local hospital for private clinic space. For example, can you hire the physiotherapy department's premises out of hours? This is likely to be more costly than working out of the surgery.

Gaining experience

Earn some sports medicine experience while taking your qualification.

BASEM is a good source for contacting established local sports injury doctors who may allow you to shadow them. Local orthopaedic surgeons are also worth contacting. Consider approaching local professional sports clubs - including football and rugby - to see if there are work experience opportunities alongside the club's regular doctor.

Alone or with a physio?

A suitably qualified GP can run a sports injuries clinic alone and if necessary refer patients to a physiotherapist. But another option is setting up a partnership with a physiotherapist, a colleague from the local hospital or a physiotherapist in private practice, perhaps.

Find a physiotherapist with a postgraduate qualification in sports injuries and who belongs to the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine (ACPSM).

Equipment required

A sports clinic should have a muscular skeletal ultrasound machine. These cost £20,000-£30,000. Alternatively, there must be an efficient referral system to the local hospital's ultrasound.

How much to charge

Some health insurance companies will cover sports injuries.

If patients do not have insurance this may affect what you charge. Current rates average £60-£80 for a half-hour consultation.

Professional indemnity

Tell your medical defence organisation or insurer about your sports clinic to ensure your own cover level is still appropriate.

Finding patients

Sports clubs, gyms and fitness centres are obvious places to publicise your clinic. Longer term, patients' word-of-mouth recommendations are often all that is needed.

Additional therapies

Consider investing in additional clinical training such as osteopathy or acupuncture, especially if you are tempted to turn sports medicine into a full-time occupation.

CASE STUDY - SPORTS INJURY AND GENERAL PRACTICE

Kent-based Dr Paul Staker is a full-time GP but spends four hours a week running a private sports injury clinic alongside private physiotherapists in Sittingbourne. He has two diplomas in sports medicine and is trained in acupuncture. Dr Staker charges £55 for a half-hour consultation plus another £15 for an injection. He sees around eight patients per week.

Dr Staker does two weekly sessions at an NHS trust's musculoskeletal clinic. He keeps his private sports injuries work completely separate from NHS work. 'I won't see any of the practice's patients privately,' he says.

A sportsman himself, he was attracted to sports medicine 15 years ago because of the lack of adequate NHS care for sports injuries.

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