“What is he doing back on the field already?” I asked my husband. “Wow, that must’ve been the world’s fastest concussion evaluation.”
About a month ago, during a game against the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub suffered a brutal hit that left him bleeding. Then, after sitting out for just one play, he was back on the field — and I was dumbfounded.
In February of 2011, the NFL unveiled a new procedure for determining whether a player has sustained a concussion. The protocol includes a symptom checklist, a limited neurological examination including a cognitive evaluation, and a balance assessment. On average, according to an ESPN article, the test takes about eight to 10 minutes to administer; yet somehow Schaub was allowed back in the game after one play — it couldn’t have been more than two minutes.
This doesn’t add up, I remember thinking.
Not only was it an extremely hard hit, but the QB’s helmet came off, and there was blood (albeit a small amount, but still). If there was any situation that warrants an evaluation, this was it. It’s absolutely mind-boggling that he was back so quickly, particularly considering the fact that this was a nationally televised game, meaning that millions would see a player get placed into a dangerous situation. I expected more from the NFL, a league that recently launched a public campaign to educate the public about what it’s doing to improve player safety. All of this — combined with the fact that the league is facing a lawsuit for its apparent failure to protect players from concussions — really makes me scratch my head.
So when I read the recent New York Times article discussing the use of health IT in the NFL, I was anxious to see how the league planned to leverage technology to improve the health and safety of its players. The technologies being utilized include iPads, which a number of teams are already using to view X-rays on the sidelines, concussion evaluation apps, and EHRs (the New York Giants are one of a few teams already using electronic records).
My first thought was that it’s great that the league is finally taking advantage of technology to do things like access test results more quickly and help players avoid unnecessary radiation. “All of this helps on so many levels,” said Ronnie Barnes, the Giants’ senior VP for medical services. “From before the game to during the game to after the game. It all just makes it easier to help the players stay healthy.”
If the NFL, the most successful of all the professional sports leagues in the country, is embracing health IT, then perhaps other leagues will follow suit.
It sounds like an all-around win… except for one thing. These tools, as great as they are, will only help if they are used properly. We can cheer all we want about teams leveraging smartphones and iPads to deliver better, quicker care, but what good do these technologies do if teams don’t use them to evaluate players like Schaub?
If the NFL really wants to make a statement, it will encourage the use of health IT tools by providing an electronic checklist (approved by physicians OUTSIDE of the league) that enables trainers to perform an evaluation and send the results in real-time to the commissioner’s office. Let them prove that they’re doing everything that should be done to protect players. And teams that fail to follow this protocol should face stiff penalties.
Because iPads and monitors on the sidelines are great — but if they aren’t used when a quarterback suffers a brutal hit, then they may as well not even be brought into the game.