Nov 16, 2016
Screen Time

In 2011, Texas took a big step toward improving concussion diagnosis in high school football by passing Natasha’s Law, which requires coaches and athletic trainers to receive training on how to handle head injuries. Now, the state is looking to do more with a pilot telemedicine project.

“Since the 2011 passing of Natasha’s Law – the diagnosis and treatment of sports-related concussions in Texas’ youth athletes has drastically improved,” Kenneth Podell, PhD, a neuropsychologist and Director of the Houston Methodist Concussion Center, said in a press release. “Unfortunately, many athletes, especially those in rural areas, still do not receive the comprehensive care needed to ensure a safe return to school and sports.”

The telemedicine initiative looks to change that. A collaboration between the Houston Methodist Concussion Center, General Electric, and the Houston Texans, the pilot project will last two years and provide telemedicine care for athletes in remote areas who suffer concussions.

According to the press release, the pilot will include 19 rural school districts. Any athletes in participating districts who are removed from games after suffering a possible head injury will receive a concussion evaluation from a Houston Methodist athletic trainer, while a Houston Methodist Concussion Center physician, such as Dr. Podell, will give guidance via a secure video connection on a tablet or smartphone.

“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,” said Greg Grissom, Vice President of Corporate Development for the Houston Texans. “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 [Texans] players receive. We’re proud to work with great partners like Houston Methodist and GE and excited to see this project make an impact with student-athletes.”

If the pilot goes well, the program could expand throughout the state of Texas. Right now, organizers are still working out some of the kinks. For instance, Internet connectivity can be an issue in some remote areas.

“A big part of this is enlightening me and what I need to do to make this successful because there are a lot of things that we don’t realize until we get out there and try to make this work,” Dr. Podell told MobiHealthNews.

Another roadblock is getting on the same page as coaches, athletes, and parents when it comes to concussions. Dr. Podell quickly discovered the lack of information available on head injuries in rural areas, so he made a training video to educate and spread awareness about concussions. His eyes were opened up by the culture of football, as well.

“Once you get out of the city, you see that what people understand about concussions is quite different,” Dr. Podell said. “And it’s both ways — you have to start understanding how important football is to the culture in these areas – So it’s taken some time to shift my mindset, too.”

According to a recent article in Training & Conditioning, Mississippi is in the midst of a similar telemedicine program. For the past two football seasons, 11 schools around the state — all of which are in rural areas — have been testing the effectiveness of using telemedicine to diagnose concussions in partnership with the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Mississippi High School Activities Association.

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