Friday Night Telehealth
My freshman year, I started the year playing three sports at my Southern California High School. By the end of October, I was down to two sports, after my quarterbacking days were cut short by a larger-than-me-linebacker who purged my offensive line and took me out at the knees. Thank the good Lord that no “real damage” was done (at the time, but the winter provides a tougher haul on my knees now than the summer months!) I then walked away to concentrate on baseball and education.
High school sports are getting as competitive as college and the players are getting bigger and bigger. With the size and speed of these players today, minor injuries can turn major without the immediate treatment of a doctor during our Friday Night Lights adventures. See what one state is doing about that, and ask if Texas will be far behind…
“Set! Green 80, Green 80! Hut-Hut!” The quarterback takes the ball and falls back into the pocket, he scans his eyes downfield and to the right as his receiver puts a move on the cornerback and peels away toward the end zone. The quarterback’s eyes are wide with excitement as he loads the ball with his arm and rockets it into the waiting hands of his receiver. The crowd erupts in celebration, and it is not until several seconds later, that everyone notices that the quarterback has not joined the game-winning celebration. He is down on the field from a crushing blow, delivered as he released the ball. In any other state, he would need to be taken to the locker room, seen by the team doctor, and potentially sent to a specialist for an evaluation of his ankle. But luckily for this quarterback and his parents observing anxiously from the stands, he is in Washington State, where 50 high schools utilize telemedicine on the sidelines for rapid evaluation of potentially dangerous blows like this one.
It’s amazing how the continuing acceptance of telemedicine by doctors, patients, and insurance companies alike is changing the way that we experience healthcare. For the Seattle area schools that have embraced telemedicine for player injury evaluations, they are saving time and money while offering players, coaches and families better peace of mind.
“The cost for an emergency room visit for an ankle sprain is up to $1,400, compared to a telemedicine consultation, which is typically $50.”
The proliferation of devices with cameras and cellular and WiFi connections make this technology extremely portable an accessible as well.
“That means students injured while playing a sport will be able to access a doctor virtually using a cell phone or computer.”
Currently, parameters are in place that requires more serious injuries like concussions to be evaluated in person and in more serious cases utilizing a more traditional 911 strategy, however, as technology gets better and less expensive, this may change as well.
We need only look to the NFL for the potential applications of technology in assessing serious player injuries on the field. NFL teams are already using telemedicine in the same way as above for instant access to specialists from the sidelines. They are also utilizing electronic health records (EHRs) on the sidelines to assure the team doctors’ have access to each player’s unique health history.
However, the NFL has gone one step further in evaluating wireless sensors designed to record and communicate the amount of shock put on a player’s helmet during plays in the game. They have also used software to assess the effects of a concussion and its severity based on a player’s eye movement responses to some electronically delivered stimuli.
This year, some of those pilot programs have been put on hold, but not because they were not deemed valuable, but rather that there is still some improvement needed in the accuracy of the sensors. There have also been some concerns about the privacy of the data these sensors transmit and the potential detriment a full history of hard hits to the head may have to a player’s value in the future. It lends to the question as to whether healthcare should and will have its own internet at some time in the near future to alleviate these types of concerns and HIPPA compliance.
The use of telemedicine in sports is just another example of how technology is enabling healthcare practitioners to provide quality care anywhere at any time. Whether it is used on the sidelines of a football game or in the living room of a remote patient with a chronic illness, telemedicine is an integral part of the future of healthcare.
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