More than half of the 900 respondents to a 2013 survey of NCAA athletic trainers and team physicians said they had felt pressure to return concussed players to action before the athletes were medically ready.
Sixty-four percent of responding clinicians said that the athletes had sought premature clearance to play, while nearly 54 percent of the surveyed medical-staff members had felt pressure from coaches, according to the study, published in the Journal of Athletic Training.
Athletic trainers and physicians experienced greater pressure from coaches when their jobs were under the purview of the athletic department rather than an independent medical institution.
There were also differences in the pressure reported by male and female medical-staff members, with more women than men reportedly feeling pressure from coaches to put players back on the field too early.
The authors did not quantify the frequency or intensity of the pressure on medical staffs, nor did they determine whether such pressures had affected return-to-play decisions.
Nonetheless, they called the findings “troubling” and urged institutions to review their supervisory structure to reduce conflicts of interest in the care of athletes and to introduce “interventions” to improve communication among coaches, athletes, and clinicians.
The study, which includes responses from medical professionals at all three NCAA levels, is the most extensive to examine concussion-treatment pressures on athletic trainers and team physicians.
In 2013, The Chronicle surveyed medical professionals at the 120 most-prominent NCAA institutions. Of the 101 who responded, more than half said they had felt pressure from football coaches to return concussed players to action faster than was in their best interest medically.