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Meaningful research on sports injuries in professionals depends on data being available without restrictions because of ownership, argues Orchard, in a leading article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The crux of the argument is that sports professionals are public figures and their injuries are in the public interest and, indeed, the interests of others—among them, sponsors, journalists, and bookmakers—challenging a basic tenet of medicine—the confidentiality surrounding the doctor-patient relationship.
Attempts to conceal information about sports professionals' injuries almost always fail in the face of the vested interests of journalists and bookmakers. And when reasonably accurate data can be found on web sites, should sports injuries research be hampered by having to bow to confidentiality?
Drawbacks to accessing the requisite data responsibly are inevitable—for example, getting agreement from the many stakeholders who may have a claim in a database—but are not insurmountable, as the author's experience with the injury surveillance system of the Australian Football League (AFL) shows. However, researchers must guard against their research being buried forever in consultation processes. Probably the biggest obstacle to accessing such a database for research would be the stance of a university ethics committee, though the author's experience with the AFL does not include this.
When the press routinely use injury data sensationally to sell newsprint it seems counterintuitive for researchers in sports medicine to be unable to use databases for serious studies which would ultimately benefit sports professionals and amateurs alike.