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Mayo Clinic to Test Teleconcussion Robot at College Football Games

September 3, 2013
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The Mayo Clinic and Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Phoenix are teaming up to test the feasibility of using a telemedicine robot to assess athletes with suspected concussions during football games as part of a research study.

With sophisticated robotic technology, use of a specialized remote controlled camera system allows patients to be "seen" by the neurology specialist, miles away, in real time. During the study, the robot is equipped with a specialized camera system remotely operated by a Mayo Clinic neurologist in Phoenix who has the ability to assess a player for symptoms and signs of a concussion and to consult with sideline medical personnel.

The robot was first available for use at NAU's opening game against the University of Arizona on Aug. 30. "Athletes at professional and collegiate levels have lobbied for access to neurologic expertise on the sideline,” Bert Vargas, M.D., a neurologist at Mayo Clinic who is heading up the research, said in a statement. “As we seek new and innovative ways to provide the highest level of concussion care and expertise, we hope that teleconcussion can meet this need and give athletes at all levels immediate access to concussion experts.

According to Mayo Clinic, this study would be the first to explore whether a remote neurological assessment is as accurate as a face-to-face evaluation in identifying concussion symptoms and making return to play decisions. Mayo Clinic physicians will not provide medical consultations during the study; they will only assess the feasibility of using the technology. If it appears feasible, this may open the door for countless schools, athletic teams, and organizations without access to specialized care to use similar portable technology for sideline assessments, Mayo Clinic officials said.

"As nearly 60 percent of U.S. high schools do not have access to an athletic trainer, youth athletes who are more susceptible to concussion and its after-effects have the fewest safeguards in place to identify possible concussion signs and symptoms at the time of injury, Vargas said. “Teleconcussion is one way to bridge this gap regardless of when or where they may be playing."

Others involved in collegiate sports agree."There were a number of examples last football season where college football players clearly demonstrating concussion-like symptoms were quickly thrown back in games or weren't even taken out of the game for an evaluation," Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, said in a statement. "College football players are in desperate need for independent concussion experts on the sidelines, and this study could help make that safeguard a reality."

In 2011, Mayo Clinic expanded its telemedicine evaluations to include concussion evaluations. Concussion experts at the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Concussion Program in Arizona coined the term "teleconcussion," and described the concept as an effective means to assess concussed patients in a case study published in the December 2012 issue of Telemedicine and e-Health.

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