Posted: Nov. 29, 2016
The Horsemen’s Health System launched by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Maryland Jockey Club in September 2015 was expected to prove valuable, but the large number of patients that have taken advantage of new services offered by MedStar doctors has exceeded expectations.
Thus far, about 500 people have visited the doctors for treatment for everything from the common cold to trauma suffered by jockeys in racing accidents. The medical facility is located in the MTHA office on the first floor of Laurel Park.
As the largest healthcare provider in Maryland and the Washington, D.C., region, MedStar’s 10 hospitals, the MedStar Health Research Institute, MedStar Medical Group, and its other programs and services are recognized regionally and nationally for excellence in medical care. MedStar Sports Medicine is the official medical team for the Baltimore Ravens, Washington Caps, Washington Wizards, US Lacrosse, the majority of collegiate, high school and recreational teams, and now Maryland racing.
The health services program is believed to be the only one of its kind in at a United States racetrack and is one of many services the MTHA provides to its membership.
“So far, this is probably the most helpful program I’ve seen,” said Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission. “The partnership they’ve created is the most productive and professionally run I’ve seen anywhere in the country. The individual record-keeping is tremendous; the availability of doctors to see patients on a regular basis; the rapid access to the MedStar network for things that can’t be dealt with at the racetrack; the welcoming atmosphere; the doctors on a regular schedule, allowing the development of doctor-patient relationships; and the electronic record-keeping that is portable-I really think this is a model program for the country and should be a standard.”
Hopkins said most racetracks in the United States provide “what’s required–minimum care.” The Maryland program offers far more. Doctors perform pre-performance physicals for jockeys free of charge. And if one is injured, a MedStar doctor is on site to do an exam and the jockey isn’t allowed back in the saddle until he or she has a clean bill of health.
“If a jockey (or exercise rider) takes a fall, we can look them over and sign off on them right there,” said Dr. Frank Dawson, who serves as the medical director of the program from MedStar in addition to his duties as a team physician for the Baltimore Ravens. “If we fear a more serious injury, we hold them out until we are able to get them the proper tests and are sure it’s safe for them to return to riding.”
When asked how the riders have responded to the protocol, Dawson said the feedback has been phenomenal.
“There has been a level of trust developed very quickly between the riders and the physicians,” Dawson said. “They, of course, want to get back on the horses, but the level of trust has gone a long way toward the understanding that we have their best interest at heart.”
The on-site doctors-Dawson, Kelly Ryan, and Jeffrey Mayer-are serving as the horsemen’s primary care physicians and offer access to one of the nation’s most advanced systems of specialists from MedStar for continuing care. Their schedules are posted regularly at the track kitchen and outside the newly designed professional medical office. Doctors have hours on all race days from one hour prior to the first post time until the last race.
Vaccines such as flu, pneumonia, tetanus boosters and others are available to horsemen, jockeys and track employees. And a continuing care program is in full swing to monitor and treat chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and others.
Dawson said MedStar even has a network doctor close to Laurel Park who sees patients that require more frequent monitoring than can be provided by the visiting on-site doctors. And the backbone of the care is an electronic medical records system MedStar uses monitor individual patients and their care.
“We closely keep track of people’s illnesses now,” said Diana Pinones, who administrates the health services program. “We can send them for bloodwork, X-rays and whatever else they need. People now have primary care doctors they know and trust that follow up after they walk out our door.”
Pinones said she has been able to get horsemen qualified for Medicare, Medicaid, and other medical assistance they didn’t know they were qualified for. “We’re here to help horsemen plain and simple,” she said. “Our workforce is a hard-working bunch and oftentimes neglects their heath because they work so much. The more assistance we can provide the better.”
Dawson said it’s not a one-way street: MedStar provides services, but it wouldn’t get very far without the cooperation and trust of the racing community.
“It has been a wonderful experience for everyone,” Dawson said. “I want to thank the racing community for really accepting us. As much as we are providing services to them, they have been willing to educate us about racing and the horsemen’s community.
“The people are very receptive and we’ve formed a good bond and working relationship, with the staff, exercise riders, backstretch workers and with the jockeys, as well. It’s been really good for everybody.”
Dawson said the staff has been able to have low wait times and pick up the care of patients from previous racetrack-based doctors. “It has been really great,” he said. “It really has been a smashing success.”