BYU professors develop concussion diagnostic app

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BYU nursing professor Craig Nuttall demonstrates how to use the concussion diagnostic app on BYU graduate student Tyler Hobbs. (Savannah Hopkinson)

A team of BYU nursing professors has developed an app to help parents, coaches and medical professionals diagnose concussions. The app, Concussion Diagnostic Tool, has a series of questions and simple tests for users to determine a patient’s potential trauma.

An estimated 40 percent of pediatric concussions go undiagnosed, and the odds of a concussion going undiagnosed or mistreated only increase with age, according to Craig Nuttall, the BYU professor who led the app project.

Nuttall realized the need for improved concussion awareness and detection while earning his doctorate degree. He developed the app to make a nationally recognized concussion diagnostic tool more available to medical and non-medical users alike. 

“There’s no diagnostic test, radiology test or lab test that you can diagnose a concussion with,” Nuttall said. “There is, however, a tool that’s been developed by a national committee of experts that helps the clinician determine if a concussion has happened. I thought, ‘Why not make it convenient?’”

Nuttall approached fellow BYU nursing faculty members Blaine Winters, Scott Summers, and Ryan Rasmussen to bring their expertise to the project and help with the app’s development. The four of them worked together and brought on an app developer to help create the finished product.

Winters had worked closely with Nuttall in the past because their research interests in concussions and other traumatic head injuries are similar. Winters worked directly on the Head Injury Project, a website that works as a supplemental resource to the app.

“I focused on the website; (Nuttall) focused on the app development,” Winters said. “Now we’re trying to put the two together to really build off each other.”

The Head Injury Project helps “patients, their families and health care providers stay up to date on the prevention, management and recovery from traumatic brain injuries,” according to a video on the site. The team hopes other universities will add their relevant news and research to the site, creating a constantly updated database of information pertaining to head injuries.

The focus for the app and the website projects focus on overall improved concussion awareness and education, beyond the reach of medical professionals. Nuttall said the biggest need for the app is among parents.  

“I think every parent should have it,” Nuttall said. “If they have a kid that plays sports — it doesn’t matter what sport — concussions happen in swimming, football, soccer, hockey, rock climbing.”

The level of competition in youth sports has increased dramatically in recent years. The spikes in competition also increase the risk for long-term head-related disorders like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) to occur at a much younger age, according to Nuttall. 

Summers, who focuses on nursing education, believes adults need the proper education to make informed decisions pertaining to their children’s brain health.

“Kids are competing at a higher level,” Summers said. “The problem is our level of education as parents hasn’t continued to match that desire to have our kids compete at that high level. Something needed to fit that gap.”

The app launched in May. A new major software update is coming for the app as it is currently awaiting approval from the app store. A graphic designer is working to improve the app’s design layout and overall user appeal, but the app’s potential for updates in the future does not stop there.

“There’s lots of things that could be added to it,” Nuttall said. “But we’re taking it one step at a time for now.”