A new pilot program’s results look promising for concussion evaluation among football athletes. The initial findings revealed that onsite physicians and neurologists examining the athletes via a telemedicine robot made the same decisions regarding care. The Northern Arizona University football team was studied over two seasons by sports neurologist Bert Vargas, MD, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, along with his colleagues. A VGo robot was stationed on the sidelines of the games and was monitored by remote neurologists; the team’s official caregivers were also onsite. The VGo robot included microphones, speakers, a high-resolution camera and wireless internet connectivity.
In total, 50 players were studied and 11 suffered suspected concussions. The remote neurologists and onsite official caregivers made the same decision regarding whether to remove the injured athlete for all 11 cases (while blinded). The diagnostic concussion screening test, King Devick (K-D) Test, was administered by the remote neurologist, on average, within 7 seconds of the onsite providers. Six of the 11 players were not removed from play based on K-D scores as well as personal history, and the Standardized Assessment of Concussion scores matched for all six players between onsite caregivers and remote neurologists.
The authors of this study highlight the need for further evaluation regarding cost-effectiveness of these assessments as well as whether or not the portable robot – versus less expensive technology – would impact the accuracy of the results. This pilot program was conducted among college athletes, so further evaluation among younger athletes would need to be done as well.
More than half of U.S. high schools did not have medical personnel on the sidelines of football games when this pilot program was launched and these results suggest that telemedicine could greatly help this underserved population.