Joint Venture Mercy Medical Center Ratchets up its Game in Field of Sports Medicine

Dr. Philip Reilly was on a ski trip to Mount Snow late last spring when he saw the E-mail.

It was an invitation, of sorts, from an orthopedic group affiliated with Mercy Medical Center, which was recruiting for orthopedic surgeons while also trying to expand its presence in the growing field of sports medicine.

Reilly, who was then part of an orthopedic practice in Warwick, R.I. and was not really looking for a new opportunity, replied in a somewhat casual manner; “It was something to the effect of, ‘I’m a 50-year-old with some passion left; does that interest you?’”

Somewhat to his surprise, it did.

He was contacted by the health system, and thus ensued talks that eventually prompted him to join that orthopedic group — which also includes Drs. Thomas Clarke, Noble Hansen, and Daryle Ruark — on the third floor of the Physicians Office Center at Mercy. There, Reilly is slowly but steadily growing his practice and building awareness of the sports medicine-related services and expertise now available at Mercy.

While administering to patients, he has also appeared on public television to talk about sports-related injuries, and was recently “on location” at the Mercy Wellness Center at Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness in East Longmeadow to discuss prevention and treatment of ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) knee injuries, which are especially prevalent among women.

Such appearances are part of a broad effort at Mercy to expand its recently created Sports Medicine program, said Dr. James Fanale, chief operating officer of the medical center, who told The Healthcare News that the steps taken are in response to recognized need within the community.

“As our society becomes increasingly active, the need for services grows,” he explained. “We’re finding that our patients need more access to this kind of care and also access to a higher level of expertise; the addition of Dr. Reilly addresses both of these needs.”

The Healthcare News looks this month at the changing face of sports medicine, and at the broad mission for this evolving field — getting people back on the playing field, whatever it may be.

The Game of Life
Reilly said that, as a health care specialty, sports medicine is not exactly a recent phenomenon.

It’s been practiced for more than 30 years, he explained, but has grown exponentially in scope and sophistication in recent years thanks to many societal changes and advances in technology, such as minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery (more on that later).

Indeed, Reilly said that while obesity remains a problem in this country, it is a fact that people are more active than ever before. They are starting younger, he explained, noting the proliferation of youth sports, and continuing later, a trend that will only accelerate as Baby Boomers reach 60 (as the first of them have) and well beyond. Meanwhile, there has been explosion in sports and fitness activity among women.

The collision of these trends has led to profound growth of sports medicine, and specialization within that broad field, said Reilly, listing psychology, physiology (maximizing performance), and nutrition as just a few of the emerging sub-strata . Meanwhile, there are sub-specialties within orthopedic care/sports medicine, with individuals focusing on knees, shoulders, the back, hands, and combinations of the above.

“When all is said and done, 90{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of the injuries and 90{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of the medical treatment required is orthopedic in nature,” he explained, “So the orthopedist is intimately involved with seeing these athletes, treating these individuals, and getting them back on the field as soon as possible.”

The more-active nature of society in general has generated increased need for orthopedic services, said Fanale, who told The Healthcare News that this is just one of many fields for which the Mercy system — and others across the region — have been recruiting additional physicians and specialists.

“There are a number of specialties in Western Mass., including gastroenterology, cardiology, and orthopedics where we need more physicians,” he said. “We’re recruiting in those and areas and others where there is demonstrated community need.”

In Reilly, Mercy found both an orthopedic surgeon and an expert in sports medicine. While with Gate Orthopedics Inc. in Warwick, he was also team physician for both Rhode Island College and Providence-based Johnson & Wales University, the hospitality-industry related school that has 15 men’s and women’s sports squads.
As team physician, Reilly said his job responsibilities ran the gamut — from injury prevention to diagnosis; treatment and, in rare cases, surgery. That job description is generally the same for his private practice, he told The Health Care News, only with a larger constituency and much wider demographic group.
Elaborating on his client base — and the target audience for all sports medicine specialists — Reilly said it includes professional, amateur, and recreational athletes, as well as those whose condition (or injury) has nothing to do with sports.

“Rotator cuff tears are much more common among people overdoing it around the house than from professional pitchers,” he explained. “We call them ‘sports injuries,’ but they happen at home, at the office, anywhere.”

Getting a Grip

As he talked about sports medicine and delivery of care in that field, Reilly said the vast majority of the services provided is not surgical in nature. Rather, it involves doses of prevention — helping people avoid injury by stressing overall fitness and common sense steps such as stretching before any exercise routine — and recommended treatment that includes everything from ice to rest to medication.

Sports medicine also involves awareness, said Reilly, adding that if Americans are going to be more active, they should do so responsibly, understanding not only their own limitations, but also the importance of everything from the impact of individual exercises on joints and muscles to the need to use proper equipment.
“A lot of the work is counseling people on the limitations that aging may impose,” he explained, “helping people understand how they can stay physically fit and active despite the cruelties of turning 30, then 40, then 50, then 60.”

As an example, he pointed to ailments such as tennis elbow and the lesser-known, and often misunderstood, golf elbow.

Both involve frequent rotary motions of the of the forearm, and are not restricted to athletes (carpenters and other tradesmen are also susceptible). The condition consists of an inflammation of the connective tissue in the elbow area, said Reilly, noting that, with tennis elbow leads to pain on the outside of the joint, while golf elbow involves the inside of the elbow.

The conditions can result from everything from weak muscles to overuse (violent extension or twisting of the wrist); improper equipment to poor playing technique).
“Knowing what causes conditions like this, and also knowing treatment and prevention, such as exercises to strengthen muscles, can help keep people from getting hurt,” said Reilly, “or get them back to the court or the course quicker, which is really what sports medicine is all about.”

In cases where surgery is required, however, new techniques are also helping the sports medicine specialist return individuals to action much quicker than years ago.

Arthroscopy is a surgical procedure in which a small camera is inserted into the knee, shoulder, elbow ankle, or other joint, Reilly explained, adding that it is now used for a number of procedures and greatly reduces recovery time.

“In the knee, people often tear a meniscus — it’s very common,” he said. “Twenty-five years ago, people did what is known as an arthrotomy, where an incision is made in the joint and an entire portion of the cartilage is excised. That usually entails two to three months of recovery, and often more.

“Today, we make two tiny poke holes, we take out as small a piece as necessary, and sometimes we can fix the tear,” he continued. “Recovery time is often three or four weeks.”

Such advances in technology and treatment contribute not only to the mission of getting individuals back on the playing field, he said, but also general quality of life.
“Our population is much more active than it’s ever been, and people want to stay active to a much older age,” he explained. “Sports medicine and its many sub-specialties enables them to do that, to have that lifestyle.”

End Game

When asked why he left an established practice in Rhode Island for a new venture in Western Mass., Reilly acknowledged that it is somewhat unusual for a physician his age to make such a change.

But he desired a new challenge and a greater sense of control over his practice, and thus he accepted Mercy’s invitation to direct a new venture. To achieve his own goals — and to also assist the Mercy system in establishing a greater presence in sports medicine — he will focus on building partnerships within the Western Mass. community.

He has talked to several colleges, for example, about serving as team physician. Meanwhile, he is conducting shows like the ones on Channel 57 and at Healthtrax to build awareness of the issues involved in sports medicine and the treatment services now available at Mercy.

Borrowing a cliché from sports, he said success will be determined by how well the team — meaning the physicians within the practice and the administrators at Mercy — functions as a unit.

“Everyone has a role in this effort,” he said. “By working together, we create a larger presence for ourselves in sports medicine in this area.”