Heads Up on i-Concussion

NAU footballThere is a new face at Northern Arizona University (NAU) football games this fall.  No – not a new quarterback or coach – but a robot on wheels!

Making its debut at the season kick-off game against the University of Arizona in Tucson last Friday, the robot has the ability to assess a player for symptoms and signs of a concussion and to consult with sideline medical personnel thanks to a specialized camera system, remotely operated by a Mayo Clinic neurologist.

teleconcussion robot Mayo Clinic will be working with NAU 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.

Athletes at professional and collegiate levels have lobbied for access to neurologic expertise on the sideline. 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,” said Bert Vargas, M.D., a neurologist at Mayo Clinic who is heading up the research.

This study is 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.

But, 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.

teleconcussion robot 2As nearly 60% 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. Teleconcussion is one way to bridge this gap regardless of when or where they may be playing.” Says Dr Vargas.

Others involved collegiate sports agree.

At NAU, our primary goal is to provide an outstanding student-athlete experience culminating in graduation,” says Dr. Lisa Campos, vice president for Intercollegiate Athletics at Northern Arizona University. “We charge our staff to research the most current and best practices to ensure the safety and care of our students. Partnering with the Mayo Clinic in its telemedicine study will further this research and potentially improve diagnosis for rural areas that may not have access to team doctors or neurologists. The study allows the NAU Sports Medicine Staff and team doctors to continue to make all diagnoses and return to play decisions for our students, while investigating the effectiveness and efficiencies of telemedicine. We are excited to have the teleconcussion robot on our sideline this fall.”

concussion_footballThere 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,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association. “College football players are in desperate need for independent concussion experts on the sidelines, and this study could help make that safeguard a reality.”

Telemedicine is not new to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona.  They first used the technology with the telestroke program in 2007, when statistics revealed that 40% of residents in Arizona did not live in an area where they were availed of stroke expertise. Since the telestroke program began nearly 3,000 emergency consultations for neurological emergencies have taken place.

We’ll be following the results of this study and will let you know the results as soon as they’re in.

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Your Life in “It’s” Hands

Videoconferences may be known for putting people to sleep, but never quite like this.

In a world first, Canadian scientists, last week treated patients undergoing thyroid surgery in Italy –  remotely from Montreal.  The approach is part of new technological advancements, known as Teleanesthesia.

The operations involved a team of engineers, researchers and anesthesiologists who controlled the administration of anesthetic agents from thousands of miles away using an automated system.

Four strategically placed video cameras monitored every aspect of patient care in Pisa, Italy, in real time.

Ventilation parameters, such as the patient’s breathing rate, vital signs (ECG, heart rate, oxygen saturation) and live images of the surgery were monitored by each camera, with the fourth used for special purposes.

A remote computer station known as the ‘anesthesia cockpit’ handled the audio-video link between the two centers. Prior to the operation, an assessment of the patient’s airway and medical history was performed via video-conferencing.

For those people concerned that computers can and do go wrong, chief investigator Dr. Thomas  Hemmerling offers the following reassurance, “Obviously, local anesthesiologists can override the process at any time.”

SRxA’s Word on Health will be monitoring all developments!