From instant replay video reviews to RFID chips tracking football player’s movements, we’ve seen the effect that technology has had on the evolution of sports over the last two decades. In the National Football League, head injuries – concussions specifically — have become a major concern that has led to memory loss, irritability and other health problems as well as millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements for former players. Although the fans want a fast paced, hard hitting game, Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, has implemented rule changes to protect players from head injuries. But what else can be done to ensure player safety during the season and after their careers? Thanks to some innovative organizations and sports programs across the country, we are now starting to see the first signs of improved healthcare technology such as wearables and telemedicine on the field.

Reebok’s CheckLight is designed to be worn by football players underneath their helmets to track and measure the impact of head collisions during the game. This new sensor technology is directly coupled to the head to reflect direct accelerations that the head, not the helmet or chin strap, experiences by triggering yellow or red warning lights that are clearly visible to coaches and medical staff on the sidelines.  The CheckLight is not a concussion diagnostic tool. It only provides linear and rotational acceleration measurements of impact force and should only be used to lead athletes, coaches and medical staff to consider further concussion tests and assessments. The Reebok CheckLight received the 2014 Innovations Design and Engineering Award from International CES.

To further combat the concussion problems in football, Northern Arizona University (NAU) tested the first tele-concussion robot at their football home opening game in 2013. The robot is operated by a neurologist from the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix and is equipped with real-time video communication technology that connects the doctor with both the players and the sideline medical personnel.  The doctor, via video conference, can now analyze the situation and conduct a concussion assessment in real time without being on the field. These tele-concussion robots, or telemedicine robots in general, being used at the non-professional level where, in most cases, a highly trained physician is not readily available to be on the field is essential to player safety at the college and even high school levels.

Photograph by Harry Gould IV

Photograph by Harry Gould IV

Although the topic of concussions is the major health concern in football today, organizations and medical staff are still concerned with overall player safety and health. MC10, the technology manufacturer from Massachusetts who teamed up with Reebok to design and develop the CheckLight, is also manufacturing technology that will allow athletes to collect data such as body temperature, brain activity, heart rate and other vitals. The BioStamp, which is applied to the human body like a temporary tattoo, can be worn by athletes for up to two weeks and can transfer and share data easily to a smartphone for real time analysis. Being able to constantly monitor the health of an athlete, not just during the game but during practice as well as off days, will allow the coaching staff to know when a player has been over exerting his or herself to prevent future/further injury. MC10 says that the BioStamp sells for about $10 per unit and should be available for commercial use in the next five years.

Even though the NFL strictly enforces real time concussion assessments during the game after a player experiences a hit to the head, it is still seen far too that a player, who is involved in a huge collision and who might have sustained a head injury, re-enters the game and continues to play untreated. Now, with the use of certain healthcare wearables and telemedicine devices on the sidelines, teams can minimize the risk of player injury. I think it might be safe to say that we’ll start seeing more and more types of healthcare technologies on the sidelines of the NFL in the coming years. There is nothing more important in sports than player safety and it is great to see such advancements made on and off the field to ensure the well being of both professional and amateur athletes.

You can read our sports use case to find out more about how telemedicine can be used around the game. Click Here!