System helps diagnose concussions

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Every time the Kansas Jayhawks take the football field, whether for practice or a game, the training staff wheels out a trunk full of just about every kind of medical tool imaginable.

Slings for shoulder injuries. Splints for broken bones. Rolls upon rolls of tape. And now, an iPad to help better deal with head injuries.

The school is testing a new system called C3 Logix, which has been under development the past two years by the Cleveland Clinic's Innovation Group. Using an iPad2 as the assessment tool, the C3 system incorporates elements of the widely used ImPACT test and other neurocognitive exams with balance and vision tests to present what developers hope is a more comprehensive picture of head injuries.

"We take our iPad out to practice. We bring it on the road when we travel. It's right there in the sideline trunk to be administered if we have a student-athlete with some issues," said Murphy Grant, the director of sports medicine at Kansas. "I think it's great technology."

The system, which was born out of research into Parkinson's disease, isn't billed as something that can reveal with absolute certainty whether someone has a head injury. But it does provide more information for trained medical staff to make that determination.

It comes at a time when the issue has never been a bigger part of the public consciousness.

Jay Alberts, director of the Cleveland Clinic Concussion Center, was developing a system to better collect data on Parkinson's disease patients, and he began to realize it might also be useful in examining concussion patients.

"They were saying they have these problems with balance, with multitasking, some motor, and it didn't sound like some of those symptoms were all that different from what patients with Parkinson's experience," Alberts said. "So we said, `Why don't we expand our algorithms and our approaches to include individuals with traumatic brain injury or concussions?"

Like other concussion tests, C3 Logix works by putting athletes through a baseline test and comparing the results to those following a possible concussion. It includes the same kind of questions that are found in systems such as SCAT2, which asks the individual to rate on a scale how dizzy they are, or how severe a headache they might have. But it also uses the iPad2's technology to take guesswork out of measuring balance and visual acuity, which also tend to be affected by a head injury.

The data is stored in the system and can be accessed by anybody involved with the treatment of the injury, whether that's the on-site training staff or even a specialist in another city. Alberts grew up in a small Iowa town so he has an interest in developing a system that is not only affordable but also can be deployed to rural or underserved populations.

Questions remain about whether any concussion assessment tool truly works. Systems such as ImPACT have been criticized for unreliability, and athletes like the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning have admitted to sandbagging baseline testing in order to keep themselves on the field.

Still, Alberts and his team believe the C3 system represents another step toward better management of head injuries.

"The way I look at it, the iPad or these consumer electronic devices really provide a great platform for delivery," he said. "I think we need to do more science with it. There are still lots of questions there. But hopefully our next phase is to be rolling it out."