How technology helps to find concussions quickly

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Imagine your child playing a game of tag with some of her neighborhood pals. She turns a corner and runs head first into one of her friends. After a few moments and a lot of tears, your daughter is already developing a big goose egg on her forehead, and you start wondering if she has a concussion. 

When it comes time to decide where to take your daughter to have her checked out, you have options. Of course, you might consider an emergency room, but a quicker and more affordable option is urgent care. Several Banner Urgent Care clinics use BrainScope One, a simple device that can detect a concussion in a matter of minutes.

Diagnosing a concussion

Traumatic brain injuries, which include concussions, are a serious problem. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show there were approximately 2.5 million visits to emergency departments for traumatic brain injuries in 2014—an increase of 54% from 2006. Of those, roughly 812,000 were for children. Unintentional falls, the leading reason for the injury, caused nearly 48% of the reported cases.

Daniel Bates, MD, MS, is Banner Health’s physician lead at the Banner Urgent Care clinics in Northern Colorado. He explains that a computerized tomography, or CT, scan is the gold standard in determining if there has been structural damage to the brain. However, not every case of head trauma needs to have a CT scan. 

BrainScope's website cites a 2016 study that showed 91% of patients receiving a CT scan didn’t have structural damage. Yet, 84% of emergency department visits across the country for a head injury lead to a CT scan.

“The advantage of BrainScope is to separate out patients that are low and high risk for a bleeding complication,” Dr. Bates said. “This allows us to prevent unneeded CT scans in low-risk patients, which involve significant radiation exposure and expense, as well as time spent in the ER.”

How does BrainScope work?

The human brain communicates with other parts of the body by using electrical impulses. For example, when touching something hot, electrical impulses travel from your fingerprints through your nerves to the brain. This tells your brain there’s a problem, and then, it sends new signals to muscles, telling them to pull your hand away. This happens almost instantly.

BrainScope One uses these electrical signals to identify problems after a head trauma. Because structural damage will influence how these electrical signals travel, it lets clinicians determine if there is a risk of structural damage, according to Dr. Bates.

“BrainScope works by obtaining a measure of electrical activity in the brain—an electroencephalogram,” Dr. Bates said. “This data is then interpreted by the machine, and the clinician is given a risk prediction for serious injury.”

So, that helps find structural damage—such as brain bleeds—but what about concussions? Dr. Bates explains BrainScope One measures an EEG-based brain function index, too, which clinicians can use to determine if the patient has suffered a concussion. 

“Concussions, themselves, do not result in any identifiable changes on CT scan,” Dr. Bates said. “They will, however, cause changes in the brain’s electric activity, which is what BrainScope detects and analyzes.”

Dr. Bates says a test usually takes five minutes to set up and five minutes to run. However, the length of a test also depends on the number of assessments run.

“It also gives us a more objective assessment of concussion that cannot be ‘gamed,’” Dr. Bates said. This is an important consideration for parents of young athletes who want to return to the game sooner than they should.

Dr. Bates notes there are no perfect tools for diagnosing a concussion, and all BrainScope results need to be interpreted in a clinical situation—like any diagnostic testing. 

To find a Banner Urgent Care near you, visit urgentcare.bannerhealth.com.

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