ClickCare Café

Medical Collaboration is Key to NFL Concussion Policy

Posted by Lawrence Kerr on Tue, Dec 02, 2014 @ 09:24 PM


As a former college football player myself, I can understand the desire of athletes to play hard, hustle, and not let an injury keep them from the game. That get-it-done approach has served me well, on the sports field as well as in the operating room.

The NFL has long been a bastion of this kind of ethos. For many years, when NFL players got a concussion, they were tossed back into the game, told they got "dinged." And the players were often part of the problemas well; Ronnie Barnes, the Giants' SVP for medical services remembers locking players' helmets in a trunk to keep them from going straight back into a game.

But there is an increasing awareness of the negative short-term and long-term consequences of brain injuries, including disabling chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This is evidenced in part by the law suit for hundreds of millions of dollars brought by 5,000 former NFL players about NFL handling of hits to the head. For NFL players, and for the league, getting a hard hit is no longer something to be taken lightly.

Now, the NFL has created an exhaustive, and seemingly sincere, strategy to keep players safe and manage concussions when they do happen. The approach, chronicled in an inches-thick manual, includes specially trained head-injury spotters that patrol the game from high above the field. It necessitates that several providers ring in on a "go/no-go" decision for the player to return to a game after a hit to the head. And it requires waiting periods and a series of visits with a neurologist once a concussion is diagnosed.

What is fascinating about the protocol is that it leverages medical collaboration as a tool to make sure the best decision is made for the player. As the New York Times reports, "It features a broad cast: a head-injury spotter in the press box, athletic trainers on the bench, doctors and neuro-trauma specialists on the sideline, and experts in neuro-cognitive testing in the locker room." After a single bad hit, many people contribute their perspective on what they observed and whether the player is "acting like" he got a concusssion: referees, other players, the team doctor, athletic trainer, head-injury spotter, and a neuro-consultant may all have a voice in making the determination.

Some players or coaches may feel the protocol goes overboard in systematizing a medical decision that isn't that complex. Others may feel it doesn't go far enough. But one thing for sure is that the NFL's approach leverages the power of medical collaboration to keep players safe. When different providers are enabled to work together to share their perspectives -- whether from their speciality or from their vantage point on the field -- better decisions are made.

Here's to using your perspective to keep your patients happy, safe, and in the game as much as possible.

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Image courtesy of yourdon on Flickr, used under Creative Commons rights.

Tags: telemedicine, medical collaboration, collaboration, healthcare collaboration

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