Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Can Mobile Health Fill a Gap in Concussion Diagnosis and Treatment?

Can Mobile Health Fill a Gap in Concussion Diagnosis and Treatment?

Project Coordinator

The men's basketball teams from University of Connecticut, University of Florida, University of Wisconsin, and University of Kentucky are set to take the court and bring March Madness to a head in Dallas this weekend, capping an exciting and bracket-busting NCAA tournament.

For all the excitement, this year's tournament has also taken a physical toll. We've seen serious injuries including a torn ACL, a foot injury; a broken knee cap; and a career-ending concussion. Thankfully, there was a fully-trained, well-equipped medical staff at each of those tournament games. The players were diagnosed and treated immediately. But what happens when there is no athletic trainer or health care professional immediately available? One solution that is becoming more and more common is the use of mobile applications. The problem with that answer is that few apps, if any, are grounded in research.

Take the significant public health problem of the exponential rise in concussion rates in youth athletes for example. Although there is a wide variety of assessment tools and return-to-play guidelines used to aid in the diagnosis and the monitoring of concussion, few of these guidelines or tools are easily accessible to the youth coach of a travel team or the parent coaching Little League. What can they do if they suspect one of their players has a concussion? Recently, the answer has been to download a concussion sideline assessment smartphone application to aid in concussion diagnosis and management. On one hand, such a tool is critical for coaches who often do not have access to an athletic trainer or health care professional at the point of injury. On the other hand, this still risks misdiagnosing or mistreating an injury because of advice that has no evidence-base.

Mobile technologies are increasingly used as part of public health interventions. There are text messaging-based interventions to tackle public health issues such as smoking cessation, diabetes management, HIV prevention and management, nutrition, and physical activity. These interventions have shown promise in helping to regulate or modify health behaviors. More recently, smartphone applications have started playing a role and opened up new opportunities in health promotion, medical education, and health care delivery. Recent estimates put the number of health, fitness, and medical-related apps at 31,000. These apps address a range of health issues from smoking cessation to diet to emergency care. 

Although mHealth research and the number of available health apps are growing, little research has been conducted on the efficacy of these health apps. Few, if any, of these smartphone applications have been evaluated for their content quality and adherence to best-practice guidelines for a given health behavior or condition. This trend also holds true for the apps available for concussion management. While research and understanding of concussion management and assessment are growing, little research has been conducted specifically on the smartphone applications available on the market for concussion recognition and management. Although there is extensive research on tools to aid in the diagnosis and assessment of concussion, this research tends to be tools in their traditional pencil-and-paper, physical format. 

It is important to make the distinction that little to no research has been conducted on these concussion assessment tools in their translated mobile form. It is critical for researchers to evaluate the traditional versions of these assessment tools, but it is equally as critical for researchers to evaluate the smartphone app versions.

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