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AFM Magazine

Safety First: Protection Program

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Organizations are teaming up to provide athletes with better concussion detection and treatment options.

When Mike Lamb played for the USC Trojans in the early 1980s, football was a different game. Unlike today’s safety-conscious environment, the emphasis in that era was on playing through injuries as a sign of toughness and commitment to the team. “Even if you were a little dazed and confused because of a violent hit to the head, the coaches expected you to get right back into the game,” Lamb recalled.

Not any more. With coaches more aware than ever about the often hidden dangers of head injuries, any errors made concerning athletes returning to play after showing signs of a concussion are made on the side of caution. But in this new era of safety awareness, there are new challenges that athletes, coaches, parents, athletic trainers and medical professionals face when dealing with possible concussions. What is the best way to evaluate athletes who might have sustained concussions? Who is most qualified to conduct an evaluation? How do you ensure that an injured athlete has access to the top medical providers in an area? What can you do if medical charges for treatment are beyond a family’s ability to pay?

These questions were the focus of Mike Lamb and other ex-players and current football parent colleagues at Wells Fargo Insurance Services when they decided, several years ago, to build a program based on concussion awareness, detection and treatment. “We wanted to bring a sophisticated program of concussion awareness to every athlete in the country,” said Lamb. “We also wanted kids to be able to see the top doctors in their area without any insurance barriers.”

The result, after several years of development, is the Play It Safe Concussion Care program, which is now available in 16 states and will be expanding nationally in upcoming years. Together with the ImPACT concussion evaluation system, Wells Fargo built Play it Safe to give athletes an accurate, medically accepted tool for concussion detection and management along with an insurance component that can provide access to top medical providers who are trained to evaluate and manage concussions.

The ImPACT system is the most-widely used and most scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system. ImPACT is in use by many teams in MLB, NHL, NFL, more than 7,400 high schools and over 1,000 colleges and universities. The computerized ImPACT test establishes a baseline neurocognitive report for each participating athlete. If a concussion is suspected, the test is repeated and the results can be used by medical professionals to assess potential changes or damage caused by a concussion.

Now, with the addition of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association as a supporter of the program, Play It Safe will offer the additional benefit of having athletic trainers specifically certified in ImPACT testing responsible for conducting the evaluations.

When a school, team or organization decides to take part in the Play It Safe program, an ImPACT Trained Athletic Trainer (ITAT) will administer the computerized ImPACT test and also conduct any necessary follow up testing.

Wells Fargo provides each participating athlete with an excess insurance plan that covers medical costs related to the injury that aren’t covered by the athlete’s individual medical insurance, up to $25,000 with no deductible and no co-pay. This includes the cost of the post-injury ImPACT testing.

For Jim Thornton, president of the NATA, having athletic trainers involved in Play It Safe is a major plus. “Athletic trainers receive in-depth, comprehensive education on brain injury diagnosis and management as part of their undergraduate or graduate degree,” he said. “The ITAT training teaches athletic trainers how to use the ImPACT tools and apply them in clinical practice. Clearly, ImPACT has demonstrated its clinical efficacy because it is widely accepted for its reliability. But all tools rely on the expertise of the medical provider administering them, which includes physicians and athletic trainers.

From the NATA’s perspective, utilizing athletic trainers certified in the ImPact Testing protocol gives the Play It Safe the added dimension to make it very popular with schools and teams around the country. “Athletic trainers are the experts in concussion diagnosis, clinical care and safe return-to-play decisions,” said Thornton. “NATA believes that this unique partnership with Wells Fargo and ImPACT will vastly improve athlete safety because the Play it Safe Concussion Care program is a comprehensive program designed to ensure the long-term brain health of student-athletes. We are hopeful and will work hard to make Play it Safe widely accepted among youth leagues and schools.”

The Play It Safe Concussion Care program is not free. The initial cost, which pays for the pre-season ImPACT testing and the insurance component, is often covered by schools in recognition of the importance of protecting their student athletes against concussions with a professionally designed and managed program.

According to Wells Fargo’s Mike Lamb, who is the chief administrator of the program, Play It Safe has been widely accepted in the states where it is offered and is destined to grow dramatically as it expands to all 50 states and Canada. “There are thousands of athletes that have participated in the Play It Safe program,” he said. “As the program expands, we’ll be able to get closer to our goal of helping every athlete have access to a proven, professional concussion awareness, detection and treatment program.” 


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