NFL adopts startup’s technology to detect concussions in real time

The National Football League may not be making all the right calls on the field, but an agreement with a Seattle company to improve on-the-field concussion response seems like a step in the right direction for another troublesome issue.

X2IMPACT, a privately-funded tech company that develops services to help manage brain injuries in contact sports, entered into an agreement with the NFL on Tuesday to supply its Concussion Management System (CMS) software application for use by certain teams this season.

The company also manufactures digital mouthpieces that can record forces of impact felt inside the head and send information to the sidelines, but this agreement solely involves the software itself.

X2IMPACT’s software application lets teams immediately assess concussion data on the sidelines‚ with information on short- and long-term memory, cognitive performance, body stability, balance, motor skills, etc.; and provides instant access to past and present medical information of each player.

This real-time data and player-specific information helps team doctors decide whether to allow a player to go back on the field or keep them on the bench for further testing.

“The NFL used to have 20-page documents and would use pencils to ask questions and determine concussions,” said X2IMPACT co-founder Rich Able. “Now, it’s highly interactive and goes straight to the cloud.”

The company is partnered with Microsoft, using its Windows Azure cloud computing system.

Able, who worked in the medical device field for 14 years,  founded the company in 2010 with current president Christoph Mack, an inventor who has worked at Nike, Apple and Whirlpool. Able said the idea came about in 2007 when his son was knocked unconscious for one minute during a high school football game. The company has grown from two to 22, with all employees based in Seattle.

There are 16 NFL teams already using the software, which is tablet-based for iOS, Android and Windows 8 devices. It is also built in 100-percent compliance to the NFL’s official concussion protocols and provides baseline records and trends, post-injury assessment/decision support and return-to-play management.

“Adopting cutting edge technology to maximize the level of concussion care we provide for our players is a decision whose time has come,” says Dr. Daniel Garza, medical director for the San Francisco 49ers, in a news release. “As a user of the X2 CMS, I’m thrilled at how it streamlines our process and improves our visibility of what used to be an overwhelming amount of data.”

The software isn’t necessarily designed to remove players from the game. While it can keep concussed players from going back on the field, it can also alleviate concerns after a hard hit, keeping a player in the game who might otherwise be removed. The data collected can also be used for research purposes to create better-designed head protection for players.

The news comes as the topic of dealing with NFL concussions continue to heat up. This Sporting News report surveyed 125 retired players, 70-percent of which say they “live in fear of losing their minds.” Last June, more than 2,000 former players filed concussion-related suits against the NFL. The master complaint noted that “The NFL’s response to the issue of brain injuries … has been, until very recently, a concerted effort of deception and denial.”

More than 250,000 concussions occur each year in high school football and the CDC estimates that there are more than 3.8 million sports brain injuries per year. Able thinks that the software can be used everywhere and not just at the pro level.

“This is the way people will be asssessed throughout sports,” Able predicts.

Able also has interest from people outside of the sports world. For example, the software could allow doctors and nurses working in the emergency room to put patients with brain injuries through cognitive tests and ultimately make better, more educated decisions.

For now, the software and mouthguards aren’t commercially available. Able says the company plans to make the impact monitoring platform available next fall for around $100 per athlete.

As for the change from working as a medical device executive and now running a successful startup, it’s been a smooth transition so far for Able.

“I enjoy the startup world,” he said. “It’s a lot more fulfilling and fast-moving. No dislikes.”

For athletes, coaches, parents and anyone concerned about the danger of concussions, Able’s company can’t move fast enough.