Jan 29, 2015
NFL To Use iPad Concussion App

Starting next season, all 32 NFL teams will conduct sideline head injury evaluations using iPads outfitted with concussion assessment software. According to The New York Times, the app was used by a handful of teams as part of a pilot program last season. The hope is that being able to compare the results of a baseline test against a post-injury exam side by side in real time will help doctors and athletic trainers quickly recognize when a concussion has occurred and guide them in removing that player from the competition.
The league’s decision to incorporate the sideline app is based on a recommendation from the NFL’s Head, Neck & Spine Committee. The new system was demonstrated at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

The app, which takes six to eight minutes to administer, uses a quantifiable neurological exam scoring system that determines if there are large discrepancies between a player’s baseline score, which is taken prior to the season, and his game day score. If a large discrepancy between the two scores is observed, it could indicate that player has sustained a concussion.

Both the baseline and sideline exams include a section on the player’s concussion history and a 24-symptom checklist. According to The New York Times:

Players are asked to score themselves on a scale of 1 to 6 in categories like dizziness, confusion, irritability, and sleep problems. Both note any abnormal pupil reaction or neck pain. There is a balance test and a concentration test, in which players, who are usually brought to the locker room to be evaluated, are asked to say the months of the year in reverse order, to recite a string of numbers backward, and to remember a collection of words three times. Then they are asked to recall them again, without warning, at least five minutes later. The words and sequence of numbers may be changed from test to test, so players cannot memorize them from a previous test to mask concussion symptoms — a fact that has annoyed players, according to Dr. Margot Putukian, the Director of Athletic Medicine at Princeton University Health Services and a member of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee.

Alhough the addition of the new assessment technology is a promising development, Putukian and other doctors are proceeding with measured optimism.

“I think we have to be careful,” Putukian told The Times. “The tool, it’s not the be-all, end-all. There are going to be athletes who have concussions that this tool does not pick up. It’s not a perfect test. Nor is there one. We don’t have one that is a perfect test.”

She added: “Athletes may take this and perform this test and do fine on it. But you may know the athlete, athletes will stumble through it — ‘Yeah, we played the Seahawks’ — you know they are struggling. It’s not bang, bang, bang. They’ll give you the right answers, but they are struggling. If you know that athlete, you say: ‘I know you passed the test, but I know you. You’re not OK.’ ”

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