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Sport Medicine Seeks to Manage Risk Through Technology

One of the concerns that has been at the forefront of health care reform in this country has been how insurers deal with the issue of pre-existing conditions. After 2014, it will no longer be legal to exclude individuals from coverage on that basis.

When most people think of a “pre-existing” condition, they envision something life-threatening and unexpected, like cancer, or some “old folks” problem. Many young people, however, come out of high school with sports-related injuries that will worsen over time and require treatment later in life.

Many are orthopedic in nature, but there is also rising concern over long-term, degenerative brain injury from playing football. An active focus of research in the NFL, the better use of protective gear, in particular helmets, is also a prime concern for young players.

Dr. Gunnar Brolinson, the associate dean for clinical research and the chairman of the sports medicine department at Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine envisions a time when helmets will be designed according to the player’s position on the field.

Using an accelerometer sensing system made by Simbex, Brolinson has determined that:

– linemen are subjected to frequent, low-impact blows at the front of the helmet,
– defensive backs have fewer impacts but at a higher acceleration,
– and when quarterbacks take a hit, it’s usually on the side or back.

Not only is the Simbex technology good for research, it’s being used for active monitoring by a dozen colleges and a number of high school teams. The system isn’t cheap — $65,000 for a sideline computer and 40 helmets with extra headgear going for $1000 a pop. With the sensors, however, the team trainers can monitor players who have been subjected to a given threshold of hits and get them out of the game before they get a concussion.

Simbex admits their system is not a diagnostic tool, but it’s an important step in the intelligent evolution of risk management, which is good for all concerned. All too often “pre-existing” conditions are spoken of purely in cost terms, not in relation to the people who have to live with the problem. And 18 is far too young to be living with any major health issue, especially brain damage that can be avoided with the intelligent use of available technology.

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