Mayo Clinic tests feasibility of telemedicine robot to assess athletes during football games

Published on August 31, 2013 at 2:37 AM · No Comments

There will be a new face at Northern Arizona University football games this fall - only this face will be on a robot on wheels.

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. During the study, the robot equipped with a specialized camera system, remotely operated by a Mayo Clinic neurologist located 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 first time the robot will be used in a game is this Friday, Aug. 30 when NAU kicks off its season against the University of Arizona in Tucson at 7 p.m. (MST).

"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 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.

"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, Dr. Vargas says. "Teleconcussion is one way to bridge this gap regardless of when or where they may be playing."

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."

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