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Northern Arizona football team to test drive 'concussion robot'

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While not every school can afford to have a neurologist on the sideline, the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., might have found a way to provide easy access to such specialists during football games.

The Mayo Clinic on Friday will test a "concussion robot" at Northern Arizona University football games with a direct connection to a neurologist, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.


With sophisticated robotic technology, use of a specialized remote controlled camera system allows patients to be "seen" by the neurology specialist, miles away, in real time.


During the study, the robot equipped with a specialized camera system, remotely operated by a Mayo Clinic neurologist located in Phoenix who has the ability to assess a player for symptoms and signs of a concussion and to consult with sideline medical personnel.


The first time the robot will be used in a game is tonight, when NAU kicks off its season against Arizona in Tucson.


"Athletes at professional and collegiate levels have lobbied for access to neurologic expertise on the sideline. As we seek new and innovative ways to provide the highest level of concussion care and expertise, we hope that teleconcussion can meet this need and give athletes at all levels immediate access to concussion experts," said Bert Vargas, M.D., a neurologist at Mayo Clinic who is heading up the research.


USA Today wrote about it as well, focusing on more details about the robot.


VGo (pronounced vee-go) is a two-wheeled, remote-controlled, electrically powered robot developed by VGo Communications of New Hampshire that stands 4 feet upright and resembles a miniature Segway.


VGo's presence signals the start of a study, conducted jointly by NAU and the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, of whether wireless telecommunication can be used to diagnose concussions in players who might be far away from a trained neurologist.


It is equipped on top with a six-inch LCD display screen, a camera, microphones, a speaker and wireless capability. It is designed so a doctor in one location can see, hear and talk to an athlete in another and vice versa. With the swipe of an iPad, the doctor also can maneuver the robot's position.


Northern Arizona's medical and athletic training staff still will make all the concussion diagnoses.


Via the VGo (starting price $5,995), the doctor on the other end will make observations during every Northern Arizona game. It will be a test of whether the system can one day be used solo in remote areas to screen players who might be concussed and then conduct follow-up exams.


Vargas will be in Tucson for the game to make sure VGo's first voyage goes well. His partner in developing the robot is excited about the project.


Vargas' colleague, neurologist Amaal Starling, will be about two hours away in Phoenix controlling the robot with her iPad and doing the remote evaluation. She will observe as the Northern Arizona staff makes its assessment, and she will make her own.


"What we said was you do what you normally do and we will be there observing and then reaching our own conclusions," Vargas says.  "… Then we'll see if our decisions and our impressions match up with those of the medical staff."


-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor

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