Concussions have been in the national spotlight recently and on the minds of many. Sports Illustrated has investigated the often debilitating injury and a new movie, "Concussion", is currently in theaters while shining a bright light on this dark side of the NFL.
Retired athletes are dying from the effects of concussions, young professionals are retiring because of their risk, and a foundation for our culture -- youth sports -- is being threatened because of them.
Perhaps not too surprising, it was announced in late December that HHITT -- a mobile concussion assessment tool (app) administered immediately after a concussion is suspected allowing the user to be evaluated by a certified physician -- was launched with the focus on young athletes.
HHITT (Handheld Head Injury Treatment Tool) announced the launch of the first mobile neurocognitive assessment tool. The tool is used to assist the diagnosis and treatment of a concussion using telemedicine to provide the user an on-demand remote certified physician to assess, evaluate and make a real-time medical decision on the user's health.
HHITT was founded by Dr. Jake Benford, a sports medicine physician who specializes in concussion management and sees their effects on a daily basis. He recognized the gap between the understanding of this complex injury and how the diagnosis is currently made, providing the opportunity to develop this new technology along with partner Mike Piha, an entrepreneurial and leader in youth athletics.
Piha, a former Palo Alto resident for more than 30 years and coach of with the Palo Alto Knights football program, is currently the interim president of the program and president of HHITT.
The Knights were the first youth football program in the country to be tested this season and the first to see the results on a national stage at the American Youth Football National Championships in Florida last month.
"A kid from Palo Alto actually got a concussion," explained Piha, who attended the national championships along with Dr. Benford. "We gave the kid the test and seven of the nine parts of the test he failed. It was neat to see it work there."
Piha said that had not the HHITT app been available, there was a "99 percent chance he goes back in the game. That's the problem, especially at the youth level," Piha said.
The app, which can be downloaded to a smart phone or tablet, is comprised of nine interactive tests designed with a "video-game" effect where today's youth has a high familiarity. After a player is tested (it takes five minutes) to get a baseline reading, that information is stored and used later to compare how a player reacts following a possible concussion.
"It's a really unique test, the only one in the country with telemedicine," explained Piha.
The main test itself compromises of nine interactive tests covering short-term memory, balance, coordination, visual memory, impulse control, long term memory, reaction time, problem-solving and color recognition, all vital in making an accurate diagnosis of concussion.
The test results can be electronically forwarded to Doctors on Demand, where a physician can determine if the player has concussion symptoms and should be held out. The whole process, from start to finish, takes less than 10 minutes. Concussion tests in college and professional sports, meanwhile, can take up to 30 minutes.
"They (the doctors) call pretty quick," said Piha. "Instant return time."
If a player is diagnosed with a concussion, Piha said he or she must be sidelined for at least a week.
"We are mitigating risk and providing a safer environment for athletes by providing a comprehensive concussion assessment tool to aid a physician in determining the diagnosis of a head injury using a mobile platform," said Dr. Benford.
HHITT was developed to reduce health risks and manage concussions to keep athletes safe by receiving immediate results from a certified physician. The initial focus for HHITT is in youth sports, where 35-plus million youth participate in the U.S. with limited concussion assessment tools and most without certified physicians and/or medical supervision present.
The ability to perform the HHITT assessment on a mobile platform makes administering the test possible directly on the field of play for immediate results. The mobile capabilities allow the user to interact with the device in ways that cannot be performed with a personal computer.
"Our pilots with youth football have been very successful identifying concussions within minutes on the field," said Piha. "The kids feel very comfortable taking the baseline test and comment on how much fun it is to take!"
Piha said more than 200 players were tested in Florida during the AYF nationals and that HHITT has a letter of intent from AYF to be the first youth football program in the nation to use the HHITT app that can be found at http://www.hhitt.com.
Dr. Benford first tested the app at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz. From there he contacted Piha, a well-known youth football leader and long-time coach with the Palo Alto Knights. Piha was asked to join the company earlier in 2015.
"Nobody's doing exactly what we're doing," Piha said. "We're trying to mitigate the whole problem of multiple concussions. Coaches have to do a better job of tackling the problem."
Piha said participation in youth football is down 22 percent nationally and that high school football nationwide is down 17 percent.
"We have to come up with ways to make it safer," Piha said of the sport.
Right now, HHITT is for athletes age 12 and up. A new test will be available later for younger athletes. Piha said there are 35 million youths playing organized sports in the U.S.
"The whole focus of our program is youth sports," said Piha. "The game has to be safer for it to continue."