New “Robot” Unveiled To Help Diagnose Concussions On Sidelines

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Mark Washburn/Courtesy of Dartmouth-Hitchcock

While there are more than a few concussion diagnostic aids coming onto the market in recent months, such as the popular ImPACT Test, few testing devices are quite as unique as the new device unveiled this week by Dartmouth University.

Most new testing machines look like simple boxes, or even sheets of paper printed with numbers in specific patterns, but Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Center for Telehealth has introduced a robot called VGo.

Okay, VGo is less of a complete robot, than a mobile teleconferencing and testing machine. Looking something like a 4-foot-tall popsicle stick on wheels, the machine includes a screen and camera to connect athletes or trainers to connect with specialists miles away to improve immediate diagnosis in more rural locations.

“I would say an athletic trainer can probably manage 80 to 90 percent of the cases that he or she sees,” says Steve Broglio, director of the Neurosport Research Lab at the University of Michigan. But, more severe or complicated cases could greatly benefit from consulting an expert who would otherwise be unreachable. For example, a player who is coming in and out of consciousness, or who seems to be having mental problems, could benefit from a quick, deeper evaluation, suggests Broglio.

Sarah Pletcher, director of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Center for Telehealth claims VGo will allow schools to have “a virtual presence on the sidelines — essentially one doctor could be on the sidelines of a dozen games all at the same time.”

Of course, video calls aren’t new to anyone who has used Skype, but the VGo has a few tricks that a smartphone or tablet lack. For one, an extra person isn’t needed to hold the camera up to the athlete. The robot’s movement is also controlled remotely by the specialist so that they can pan and zoom as needed.

The most important thing to remember with devices such as this would be that none can fully replace an in-person consultation. The VGo may serve as an effective aid in helping communities who can’t have an expert present at every game, but it shouldn’t be a first resort for most brain injuries.

“There are a lot of things you can’t deduce through a computer screen,” says the University of Michigan’s Broglio, like watching a player on the sidelines (or later, in class) for any change in personality, which can also be a sign of concussion. “It’s good,” Broglio says, “but it’s an adjunct at this point.”

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