How Reliable Are Concussion Apps?

A huge number of app developers have found their names in headlines recently, as each week seems to bring another app that claims to be able to diagnose concussions and traumatic brain injuries. Some of these apps and systems, like the well-known ImPACT system, are being used on sidelines across the country to diagnose sports-related brain injuries as quickly as possible. But, how accurate are these apps really?


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A new report coauthored by Hopin Lee, from Neuroscience Research Australia in Sydney, and Osman Ahmed of the FA Centre for Disability Football Research in Straffordshire, UK, found the accuracy and effectiveness varies widely.

“Although not essential to the recognition and management of a concussion, mobile apps provide a new dimension in concussion management for medically trained professionals,” the authors told Reuters Health. “However for the public, it is important that these apps are not seen as a do-it-yourself solution and the information is used to guide a player with a suspected concussion to seek urgent medical attention.”

The University of Otago in New Zealand also collaborated on the review of the tools.

The team downloaded 18 of the most popular English-language apps intended to help users assess concussions, and compared the information in each app to an international concussion diagnosis standard called the Sport Concussion Assessment 2.

Apps designed to be used by people other than medical professionals were ranked based on three areas that are important markers of concussion: symptoms, memory function, and balance. In each area, a score of zero meant there was no information, and a score of 2 meant the information was comprehensive and complete.

Some of the apps were designed specifically according to the SCAT2 standard, and their high scores reflected this. However, others received straight zeros.

The report was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, along with a checklist intended to help guide those looking for a reliable concussion evaluation app. However, the test shows above all that apps only serve as one tool in attempting to diagnose brain injuries, and should absolutely not be treated as a surefire method of detecting brain injuries.

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