Uses of Health Care System Medical Care Services by Athletes After Injury at the High School Level

J Sch Health. 2023 Jan;93(1):5-13. doi: 10.1111/josh.13255. Epub 2022 Oct 20.


Background: Health care utilization can vary by age group, geographic location, and socioeconomic status (SES). A paucity of information exists regarding the availability and utilization of medical care by injured scholastic athletes. The purpose of this study was to describe and compare injuries and health care service utilization by school SES over an academic year.

Methods: Injury and health care service data was collected from 1 large school district. Percentage of free and reduced lunch (FRPL) for each school was calculated to stratify schools into high (<50% FRPL) and low (≥50.1% FRPL) SES groups. Incidence proportion and relative risk (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were calculated.

Results: About 1756 injuries were reported among over 7000 participating athletes from 14 high schools. Similar injury incidence proportions were reported between high and low SES schools (RR = 1.10 [1.00-1.20]). Athletes from low SES schools were twice (RR = 2.01 [1.21-3.35]) and over three (RR = 3.42 [1.84-6.55]) times more likely to receive emergency and physical therapy care. SES was not associated with the use of physician, imaging, or surgery services.

Implications for school health, policy, and equity: School medical providers and administrators should have ready and provide a list of trusted outside primary care and specialty providers that have experience in sports medicine. They should also enquire and follow up on which outside provider the high school athlete will seek care when referring out to outside providers.

Conclusions: Injury incidence was similar between high and low SES schools. However, athletes from low SES high schools were over 2-fold more likely to use emergency department services. Understanding factors influencing health care services choice and usage by student athletes from different socioeconomic backgrounds may assist sport medicine clinicians in identifying barriers and potential solutions in improving time to health restoration, athlete outcomes, and health care monetary burden.

Keywords: emergency department; health care access; physical therapy; socioeconomic status.

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Humans
  • Policy
  • Schools*
  • Social Class
  • Sports*