Health

NFL’s newest weapons to fight concussions: E-health and Surface

Above: Microsoft's Surface is finding a new home -- the sidelines of the NFL, where trainers can use it to track injuries and concussions.

Image Credit: Microsoft

A new app from eClinicial and Microsoft could help make concussions — and overall player health — something much easier for the league and its medical staff to deal with. And it could result in healthier players.

Concussions may have become as important to the NFL as sealing TV deals and finding new stars. As research is showing increasing evidence that head trauma is causing many health problems for retired players, the NFL reached a settlement Thursday for $765 million on a lawsuit that former players filed on concussions.

Today, Microsoft announced a new program in which its Surface tablet would be in the hands of medical personnel around the league. Each Surface comes with the X2 app, software that’s still in development that helps track concussions and other aspects of player health, such as injuries and medications.

“That’s the big deal here,” Microsoft’s Bryan Seitz said. “[Concussions] have clocked in as the players’ No. 1 concern.”

During a presentation last week, Microsoft hyped its new offerings from ESPN and NFL for watching sports and tracking your fantasy football teams. Shunted off to the side, however, was the real news. X2 looks like something that could significantly affect how medical personnel deal with injuries in the NFL — concussions in particular.


Editor’s note: Our upcoming CloudBeat conference, Sept. 9-Sept. 10 in San Francisco, will be tackling revolutionary cases of enterprise cloud usage. Register today!


X2 can take a baseline report of a player before the game — or depending on when the team uses it, before the season even begins. This baseline establishes a player’s mental state though a test. The resulting score then helps a trainer or doctor compare the effects of a hit to the head. The injured played answers the same set of questions, and the difference in scores helps assess whether the he just got his bell rung or may have a serious head trauma or concussion.

“When the player goes off the field, if the score is too high, he then goes to the hospital,” Seitz said.

The app is available now to all NFL teams while in trials. Seitz did not answer repeated questions to determine which are using it. “Different teams are using it at different times,” he said.

The health information appears in an electronic health record (EMR). The files rest in eClinician’s cloud, making them accessible whether the team is it at its practice facility or on the road. This gives the NFL its first health tool that is universal — any team can use it, and all of the data could be linked together to help doctors follow league-wide trends. These EMRs can even transfer from one team to another should a player find himself traded, released and signed by another team, or moving squads via free agency; EMR permissions can move from team to team.

Red flags on a patient’s history could also indicate areas in which medical staff should concentrate or be aware of should an injury occur during a practice or game, such a knee that’s received prior surgery.

Microsoft says that only team doctors, trainers, and other approved staff (and the player, of course) have access to these files.

X2’s keys are accessibility and portability. A tablet sure beats writing down notes in a book or even a note on a smartphone — even if some trainers and doctors have been known to “write on their hands” when taking down an injured player’s status on the field, says Seitz. And having all of the player’s previous health information available can improve care.

The NFL is a copycat league — just look as teams adapt one successful scheme after another (West Coast offense in the 1980s, the Tampa Bay Cover-2 defense, and now the successful read-option running quarterbacks). But what about addressing serious injuries — and establishing concussion baselines — even earlier in a player’s career? What about in college? Or even in high school?

“If this is shown to be helpful to players on the NFL level, we expect to see other organizations use it,” Seitz said, though he wouldn’t commit to whether Microsoft has any plans to bring these X2-enabled Surfaces to amateur football.

The NFL is also finding other uses for the Surface app. Like with the Xbox, the NFL has a fantasy football app. And it’s also the official tablet for the league — you’ll see that emblazoned on the hoods of replay cameras.


HealthBeat — VentureBeat’s breakthrough health tech event — is returning on Oct 27-28 in San Francisco. This year’s theme is “The connected age: Integrating data, big & small.” We’re putting long-established giants of the health care world on stage with CEOs of the nation's most disruptive health tech companies to share insights, analyze trends, and showcase breakthrough products. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!