A bill that would clarify the status of doctors traveling with sports teams to the islands is in the final stages at the Legislature.

Sports doctors traveling with their out-of-state team to Hawaii may soon be exempt from needing a state license to practice medicine in the islands.

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Hawaii is one of four states that don’t clarify the status of requirements for the traveling doctors, which raises concerns about their practices in relation to local laws and regulations. That also limits the care they can provide.

The other states that are unclear and unspecific about the issue are Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, said Brian Williams, director of advocacy for the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.

“When the physician travels with the team,” Williams said, “the status of their medical license is in question.”

A new bill, House Bill 884, aims to spell things out by creating an exception for these traveling doctors under certain conditions. This exception includes limiting the doctor to the practices of its governing body and requires that the doctor notify the Hawaii medical board before entering the state.

The first UH Football game vs Portland State Vikings at the Clarence TC Ching Athletic Complex.
A bill being considered by lawmakers would give sports doctors traveling with their team a Hawaii license exemption as long as they meet certain conditions. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021)

If a doctor travels to a state where they aren’t supposed to practice medicine, they are supposed to defer to the home team’s physicians when administering medical care, Williams said.

“For the athlete, this is far superior medical care than it would be to just have a stranger, you know, the home team physician,” Williams said.

He added that the team’s regular physician will know what to look for and what the athlete has been going through, providing context for the case.

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“We view it as essential to the athlete’s health and safety,” Williams said. “If you’re a team physician, and you have 25 team members, you’ll know their medical history. You’ll know what they’re dealing with.”

Rep. Dee Morikawa, a supporter of this bill, said, “I think it’s just giving the team assurance that they can depend on the person they trust for the medical needs.”

The bill’s next step is a conference committee, Morikawa said, where lawmakers from the House and the Senate will try to align their versions of the idea and make it into law.

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