As many as 3.8 million sports related concussions occur in the United States every year. A concussion is one of the most dangerous sports related injuries as it cannot be visibly seen, and, thus, nearly half go unreported or untreated. A concussion occurs “from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth,” and even a minor bump to the head can have serious results. High impact sports such as football, ice hockey, and soccer result in the most concussions. Concussions require immediate medical evaluation to determine an athlete’s “vital signs and level of consciousness and to rule out any other injuries, such as those to the spine.” It is important to conservatively monitor athletes under the age of 25 years old, as the frontal lobes of the brain continue to develop until age 25.
Recent research suggests that approximately 53% of high school athletes have had a concussion before even participating in high school sports, and 36% of college athletes have experienced multiple concussions. When an athlete shows any signs of a concussion, “the player should be evaluated by a physician or other licensed healthcare provider onsite…Sideline evaluation of cognitive function is an essential component in the assessment of this injury.” Steve Borglio, director of Neurosport Research Lab at the University of Michigan, states, “some difficult cases could benefit from having a quick consult with a concussion specialist like a neurologist or neurophsychologist.” While most professional sports programs and major universities have a doctor or athletic trainer onsite to monitor players’ health during the game, not every high school or collegiate program has the budget to staff every match and practice with medical professionals.
Dartmouth College has recently deployed a new telehealth program that will bring certified athletic trainers and health professionals to the sidelines in the form of a four-foot tall robot, outfitted with a screen and camera. Health professionals have the ability to control the movement of the robot and can speak directly to the athlete, facilitating appropriate diagnoses of a concussion and treatment recommendations. The use of such telehealth systems would provide schools with “a virtual presence on the sidelines – essentially one doctor could be on the sidelines of a dozen games all at the same time,” says Sarah Pletcher, director of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s center. Telehealth programs reduce the financial and programmatic barriers of having an onsite health professional during practices and games, and provide a substantial safeguard to the health and wellness of the athlete.