Study: Robot Can Help Diagnose Athlete’s Head Injury

The robot's camera would allow a distant neurologist to evaluate a player suspected of having a concussion.

head injury
head injury

Dr. Bert Vargas [Photo Courtesy UT Southwestern Medical Center]

Friday Night Football is a ritual for many folks in Texas, with many high school games taking place in far-flung rural locations where medical care may be many miles away should a player suffer a head injury.

Much of rural America, in fact, is far from the doctors who can diagnose and treat such injuries as concussions or other head trauma.

There could be help on the way, though.

The Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at the UT Southwestern Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic are conducting a first-of-its-kind study utilizing a remote-controlled robot. The study was published in the journal Neurology.

The robot would allow a neurologist many miles away from the stadium to evaluate athletes for a head injury such as a concussion — all with the same accuracy as if the doctor was on site, UTSW said in a release.

“I see teleconcussion being applicable anywhere in the world.”
Dr. Bert Vargas

“I see teleconcussion being applicable anywhere in the world,” Dr. Bert Vargas, the study’s lead author, said in the release. Vargas directs the sports neuroscience and concussion program at the the O’Donnell Brain Institute.

“Right now, there’s a significant disparity in access to concussion expertise,” he said.

According to the release, the study provides preliminary data to a developing movement to use teleconcussion equipment at school sporting

head injury

The robot along the sidelines of a Northern Arizona University football game. [Photo Courtesy UT Southwestern Medical Center]

events where a neurologists or other concussion experts might not be readily available.

Concussion awareness and treatment is a major topic of discussion is sports, as many former NFL players reportedly suffered permanent brain damage attributed to repeated head impacts.

The study used a mobile robot that was placed for two seasons on the sidelines and in the training room at Northern Arizona University’s football games. By viewing the robot’s camera, a neurologist could watch the game and make evaluations of players who might have been concussed.

UTSW said the research shows that mobile robots under the control of a doctor can help diagnose sports concussions with the same accuracy as on-site physicians.


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