Mason Partners with Prince William County to Provide Better Concussion Care for Student Athletes

Posted: March 12, 2013 at 2:54 pm, Last Updated: March 14, 2013 at 5:50 pm

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By Catherine Probst

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The ACHIEVES Project has increased access to and quality of health care for student athletes.

To address the growing issue of concussions in student athletes, researchers in George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) and Prince William County Public Schools joined forces on the Advancing Healthcare Initiatives for Underserved Students (ACHIEVES) project to deliver more effective medical care and concussion education.

The partnership comes as a response to legislation passed in July 2011 by Virginia’s General Assembly that requires student athletes and their parents to receive annual concussion education and that any student athlete suspected of suffering a concussion be removed from further participation in practices or games until evaluated by an appropriately licensed health care provider. The law also mandates that schools form concussion management teams to provide and document concussion education for students, staff, coaches and parents.

This legislation, however, poses a challenge for many Virginia public schools, which often lack the necessary resources to properly deliver and track concussion education, access to appropriately licensed health care providers and a comprehensive system to track all sport-related injuries, such as concussions, and the details about how they are managed throughout a student’s recovery.

“Concussion in youth and scholastic sport represent an important public health issue. We are working to help educate the public that concussions should not be taken lightly, and that if not managed correctly, serious long-term consequences can result,” says Shane Caswell, associate professor of athletic training and director of the Sports Medicine Assessment Research and Testing (SMART) Laboratory in CEHD. “Ultimately, we hope that this innovative approach to address concussion education will serve as a model for other school systems at the local, regional and national levels as more states enact concussion laws.”

In its first year, the ACHIEVES project, which is funded by the Potomac Health Foundation, has succeeded in increasing access to and quality of health care for student athletes, providing education about the emerging health issue of concussion and building a centralized injury surveillance system that will assist in the prevention efforts within Prince William County middle and high schools.

The project targeted students ranging from 10 to 18 years of age; parents; and staff at 11 high schools and 15 middle schools in Prince William County. Two types of injury data were collected and analyzed: all high school injuries related to athletic participation and all concussions that occur during middle school athletic events.

Four athletic trainers provided their support to Prince William County schools to ensure that all students are receiving adequate medical care. Two certified athletic training graduate students from Mason’s Exercise, Fitness and Health Promotion Program worked at two high schools and were on hand at each home game and most practices to make sure that all injuries and treatments were properly identified and diagnosed. The other two athletic trainers served as Middle School Concussion Education Coordinators to provide concussion education and collected middle school athletics concussion data.

SMART Lab researchers also worked with the Prince William County Public School athletic trainers and administrators to design and implement a concussion education program that offers both online and face-to-face sessions that address topics related to concussions. Regional and national experts were also brought in to provide Prince William County athletic trainers with continuing medical education related to concussion education and injury treatment. In total, nearly 52,000 middle and high school parents and teachers received concussion education.

The ACHIEVES project also implemented a standardized electronic medical record (EMR) program that will provide more accurate information related to student athlete injuries and track concussion education in all Prince William County schools. Caswell and his colleagues in CEHD’s Division of Health and Human Performance will analyze all concussion education tracking and EMR data to generate regular reports for Prince William County.

“In a very significant way, the ACHIEVES project has provided invaluable support for the Prince William County Public Schools concussion management program and has enabled our community to receive the most current and thorough concussion knowledge possible,” says Fred Milbert, supervisor of health and physical education for Prince William County Public Schools. “Our efforts with George Mason University allowed us to be a leader that organized community sports can model and enjoy safer participation for all students and athletes.”

As the project enters its second year, with additional funding, the researchers have already made strides in expanding access to care: another middle school has been added, as well as a third athletic training graduate student to provide onsite care at a third high school in Prince William County. The researchers are also developing a training program that will help teachers and administrators properly recognize, report and implement developmentally appropriate instructional strategies to facilitate students’ safe return to the classroom following concussion.

Write to Colleen Kearney Rich at ckearney@gmu.edu

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