- A two-year telemedicine project to link student-athletes in 19 rural school districts with Houston Methodist Hospital’s Concussion Center could be a model for a statewide program – and a model for other states as well.
The program, funded by the NFL’s Houston Texas and supported by GE Healthcare, will send an athletic trainer equipped with a Microsoft Surface tablet and the imPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) Applications app to a school that reports a possible concussion. The trainer will then coordinate a concussion diagnosis via video-consult with clinicians at Houston Methodist.
“Replacing an office visit with a telemedicine visit can allow the student-athlete (to) begin the correct treatment plan sooner and safely return to school and sports faster,” Greg Grissom, vice president of corporate development for the Houston Texans, said in a press release. “Many student-athletes in southeast Texas are two to three hours from a concussion specialist, so this telemedicine program gives Houston Methodist a chance to provide the same level of concussion care as our players receive.”
The imPACT platform won’t enable healthcare providers to diagnose a concussion at the school – that’s what the video conference with Houston Methodist will cover. The app tests reaction time, word recognition and word memory and non-verbal problem solving, which can then be matched to an online age-matched control database as well as any cognitive tests done on the patient in the past.
The technology is the first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to measure the cognitive effects of a concussive hit to the head, which results in more than 2 million ER visits and leads to an estimated 50,000 deaths each year in the United States.
It's among a wide range of mHealth tools and technology being employed at schools and with sports programs around the country to better diagnose and treat concussions. While many are focusing on apps and video links with local healthcare providers, some schools are testing out telemedicine robots and helmets, headgear and other wearables embedded with sensors.
Pittsburgh-based imPACT, which received FDA approval in August for its imPACT and inPACT Pediatric platforms, has been forging partnerships with health systems and school athletic programs for more than two years. The company is working with, among others, University Hospitals Case Medical Center, the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, Mercy Sports Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Seattle Children’s Hospital, UPMC, Texas Health’s Ben Hogan Sports Medicine and Nebraska Orthopedic Hospital.
This isn’t the first NFL partnership, either.
The company is now working with the Dignity Health Foundation, Dignity Health’s Barrow Neurological Institute, the California Interscholastic Foundation and the San Francisco 49ers to launch an mHealth-based concussion testing program in five pilot schools in the San Francisco area. Another 20 area high schools will be using the Dignity Health Concussion Network’s online and app-based educational tools to educate students, coaches, staff and parents on the effects of a concussion.
“This program is necessary to help correct major misunderstandings that most of the population has about concussions,” Jávier Cardenas, MD, director of the Barrow Concussion and Brain Injury Center in Phoenix, said in a release announcing the partnership. “For example, many people believe that a head injury is only a concussion if there is a loss of consciousness, but 90 percent of concussions do not present with that symptom at all. This program empowers athletic directors and coaches to take an injured player out of the game and gives athletes the tools to speak up when something doesn’t feel quite right.”
The partnerships could prove especially beneficial to underserved and rural school districts that don’t have the resources to check athletes for concussions during or immediately after games. To that end, imPACT is partnering with the Dave Duerson Athletic Safety Fund, which offers educational services and concussion management tools to more than 100 schools in 35 cities around the country, serving roughly 1.5 million student athletes.
The organization is named after the former Chicago Bears safety who killed himself in 2011. An autopsy later determined he had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by several concussions he had sustained during his playing career.