From the Field to the Clinic: This Independent Sports Medicine Physician Shows What It Means To Have Your Head in the Game July 13, 2022
Dr. Mo Mortazavi knows how important it is to move fast. As an undergraduate in pre-med at University of California, Davis, he was a wide receiver for the campus’s beloved Aggies football team. His position on the field is known as the fastest in football — requiring him to catch passes from the quarterback and quickly attempt to avoid, outmaneuver, or simply outrun a barrelling-down defense hell-bent on stopping his progress.
That ability to bob and weave no matter what’s in his path has served Dr. Mortazavi well from the start. In his senior football season, he became the only NCAA Division 1 athlete in the country also currently enrolled in medical school. Before graduating, he worked with the European Football League for two years as a player-coach for teams in Austria and Italy, where he researched EKG screening of athletes’ musculoskeletal ultrasound.
“Even though I didn’t know it at the time, these experiences were the early seedings of my vision and passion for practicing sports medicine and concussions, particularly with young athletes,” said Dr. Mortazavi.
He returned to Davis for his pediatric residency and sports medicine fellowship before setting off on what looked like would be a straightforward career practicing in academic medicine. Dr. Mortazavi was invited to a dream job: building out a brand-new pediatric sports medicine program at a university medical system in Arizona.
An Early Career Interception
After only 18 months, the dream came to an abrupt halt when the university was bought by one of the largest health systems in the U.S. Under new leadership, new policies on care filled with administrative-driven red tape were implemented, restricting Dr. Mortazavi’s personal approach with his patients.
Elation has a great API that allowed us to create [sports-medicine] intake forms that automatically talk to the EHR… Ultimately, Elation was a huge step for us.”– Dr. Mortazavi
“They were just a very different organization and philosophy,” Dr. Mortazavi said. “I decided to transition from the university abruptly because it all happened fast. I had to make a decision quickly. Most people would look at my situation, where I didn’t have anything else to do and I was kind of cornered, and decide to stick with it, but I knew that it wasn’t going to work for me. Within a matter of months, I somehow came up with the brilliant idea that I could try to go out on my own and establish a practice.”
Building a New Kind of Team
Looking back on his past experiences on sports teams and building new medical teams centered around a meaningful purpose, Dr. Mortazavi dreamt up a new kind of practice that would focus on sports medicine, rehabilitation, and concussion care. He created a manifesto for his patients:
“We promise everything involved with your visit, from contacting and scheduling to checkout and payment, will be a good experience. Our awesome team will guide you through confusing insurance/cost questions. Our waiting room looks more like a spa. The new zen of medicine! And perhaps most important, we have incredibly talented providers with no constraints on how much time they spend with their patients. This is what makes for the ‘best care in the area,’ not just empty words or the size of the group.”
We knew the technology world was changing fast and that medicine was changing really slowly relative to that. We felt bringing those two worlds together could lead to better patient experiences and patient care.”Dr. Mortazavi
Dr. Mortazavi took an “it takes a village” approach to patient care when he launched his practice, SPARCC, a progressive sports medicine clinic “built by athletes for athletes” and Southern Arizona’s first comprehensive concussion center. Centered around a collaborative model for care proven to improve patient care and outcomes, this method brings together key players in each patient’s care.
Enlisting the help of his best friend and former UC Davis teammate, Andrew Zelinski, a software engineer, Dr. Mortazavi set to work implementing modern technologies focused on providing progressive care for patients with ongoing conditions that required more regular monitoring and assessment. “We knew the technology world was changing fast and that medicine was changing really slowly relative to that,” says Dr. Mortazavi. “We felt bringing those two worlds together could lead to better patient experiences and patient care.”
Caring for His Community During COVID-19
While many physicians were unable to remain in business due to the stress of the pandemic, Dr. Mortazavi once again innovated and pivoted along with his team.
Introducing telemedicine options for his patients was key, quickly growing from only in-person visits to using telemedicine for 75% of his appointments at the height of the pandemic. Today, telemedicine visits continue to make up a quarter of his practice, supporting out-of-state remote patients.
The use of telemedicine has created a new path to helping care for more rural patients in the Tucson area. “I’m going to continue to use telemedicine as a great option for folks that live far away, have limited transportation, or just prefer the convenience. For certain goals like discussing their symptoms, medications, or reviewing testing/imaging results, it works very well. We also have developed ways to implement remote cognitive testing, vestibulo ocular testing, and limited exams for those who are out of state,” says Dr. Mortazavi.
He’s also been working with patients suffering from persistent COVID-19 symptoms, like non-specific fatigue, cognitive impairment, brain fog, or physical fatigue for longer than a month, known as “long COVID.” Recognizing the similarities between long COVID and persistent post-concussive symptoms, Dr. Mortazavi is researching the use of similar methods for treatment, such as cognitive testing, neuro rehab, and exertional rehab.
Dr. Mortazavi’s Playbook on Creating a Successful Independent Medical Practice
- Start Lean and Move Fast: Dr. Mortazavi found success starting with as little overhead as possible by running as a mobile practice. He identified private practices around Tucson with programming that was in line with his message and goals and rented space from them by the half-day.
- Mastering the Mobile Model: Using software-based tools and renting spaces that allowed him to use patient rooms and equipment made it easier to keep his practice mobile. Finding an EHR that met the needs of his mobile practice proved more difficult, until Dr. Mortazavi found Elation Health. “Elation has a great API that allowed us to create [sports-medicine] intake forms that automatically talk to the EHR. Those are things I wouldn’t have thought of at that point, but of course Andy [Zelinski] was because that’s what he does. Ultimately, Elation was a huge step for us,” said Dr. Mortazavi.
- Growing the Right Team: Education and research are at the very heart of Dr. Mortazavi’s philosophy as a physician. “Often people in medicine who are not in academic centers can forget about education and research. Now that I was starting my own practice, I didn’t want to ignore these critical elements.” Several of SPARCC’s hires are medical students and residents who have completed rotations with the team as part of their academic programming.
Finding Freedom and Success on His Own in Tucson
Today, SPARCC operates out of its own 5,000-square-foot facility with six full-time providers. Dr. Mortazavi personally sees roughly 40 to 50 patients in a busy week, with 90% of patients suffering from concussions or brain injuries.
Dr. Mortazavi is passionate about serving the community, and he is continuing to move fast. “We’re Tucson born and raised, and our focus remains in Tucson. We’re also looking to expand our footprint to include some of the more rural areas that are around us, so that patients that are two and four hours away don’t have to drive all that way to get care.”
He’s excited to set up providers in surrounding areas to help address the needs of communities that are often overlooked. He credits the practice’s growth to the colleagues he works with, who ensure that care for each patient is a coordinated team effort.
“When it comes to our work in the community, we really believe that when we take care of a patient we need to work in conjunction with healthcare providers and other folks who have a role in the patient’s well-being,” said Dr. Mortazavi. “The big thing for us as we evolve forward is continuing to focus on bringing in quality practitioners to join our team.”