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Conflict of interest issues surface for baseball team physicians

Although professional baseball teams such as the Boston Red Sox employ physicians to care for injured players, many players are suspicious of the quality of medical care they receive. Many of these players now routinely seek second opinions from independent physicians.

A doctor who is a consultant for the Kansas City Royals told The Boston Globe that the physician-patient relationship is compromised on some major league teams. The possible conflict of interest between a baseball player's best medical interests and the expectations of team owners places many physicians in situations that are ripe for medical malpractice lawsuits.

"The player is like a racehorse," the doctor said. "The team wants to get its investment out of him, and when an injury occurs, the question becomes, 'Is the treatment going to make him produce for us or not?' ''

The Doctor also said that the Boston Red Sox have bucked his disturbing trend because the team's physicians are generally well respected by unaffiliated doctors and the team players.

"There are plenty of team doctors who are the best at certain things and support the player's interests," the doctor said. "There are plenty of others I wouldn't send my dog to, and I love my dog."

A well-respected knee surgeon who routinely operates on baseball players also said that there are many discrepancies in medical care in major league teams, but that Boston's doctors were generally well regarded.

The Sox did not always have a good reputation for medical care. The Boston Globe reports that there was significant controversy in the 1990s when a team owner was employed as the team physician.

During this period players frequently complained of receiving substandard care. "Our doctors are killing us," one player said.

Another player received $1.7 million lawsuit against the doctor in 1995 after the doctor misdiagnosed a knee injury.

Source: The Boston Globe, "For team doctors, a tight spot: As medical staffs try to serve injured players and owners, conflict is the name of the game," Bob Hohler, 3/27/11

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