Posted on April 4, 2008 · Posted in Brain Injury

As I discussed yesterday, if the person is seen the day after the concussion, there is a fertile opportunity to actually test the injured person’s memory formation, to see if they are in an amnestic period. Yet, no where in the Facts for Physicians Toolkit, does it call for a return visit the next day.

In the sports situation, the athlete doesn’t get back into the game if he or she is symptomatic at 15 minutes. So what does that mean? They don’t determine that the person is able to go back into the game at two minutes, they wait fifteen minutes. If there are no symptoms at 15 minutes, they send them back in. If they are symptomatic at 15 minutes, they don’t get back into the game until their symptoms have cleared for a significant period of time.

If it is classified as a significant concussion, they don’t get back into the game until their symptoms have cleared for seven full days. Now here is what is significantly different about the way that average people who get head injuries, brain injuries in motor vehicle accidents or falls are treated different than an athlete.

With an athlete, let’s take an NFL quarterback, there are millions of dollars at stake as to whether or not and when, that person can play again. That means that every day that such person continues to be symptomatic it is a problem. Which of course means that every day some expert in the field of brain injury or at least in the field of sport concussion, is evaluating them to see if they are still symptomatic.

If we could take that model of daily evaluations to see if symptoms have cleared and apply that to injuries that happen in motor vehicle wrecks , I believe we would be able to sort out the accidents and brain injuries that are significant from those that are not.

What I would like to see is a change in two significant things in respect to people who have concussions in motor vehicle accidents and other accidents are treated. First, there has to be an analysis done of memory not confusion in the ER, as discussed previously on this blog. Second, we need to demand a 24 hour follow-up, preferably at the same facility.

Sorting out confusion from amnesia at the ER on the day of the event is only going to tell us what is going on in the first three or four hours. “Brain injury is a process, not an event. “ (T Gennarelli) It can take 72 hours for the full effect of brain injury to start impacting on the mind. So more important than asking better questions about amnesia on the day of the accident is to ask them something the next day.

I have two classes of concussion cases. Those where the people went to the ER on day two, and those where they didn’t. In almost every case where the loved ones of the injured person were concerned enough about injured person’s behaviors that they took them back to the hospital, I was able to prove a brain injury occurred. It wasn’t that the second day’s ER staff was so much more competent. It was that by day two, it had become so much more obvious that a concussion had occurred.

When you go to see the doctor 24 hours after your concussion and it is a significant concussion, even busy doctors in the emergency room will spot amnesia and even if they aren’t confused about what happened in the accident, they are confused about what they have been doing.

If we believe it is important to treat those with lasting effects of concussion, we must identify those who are the highest at risk. If we are really going to improve how we sort that out, the key is to make sure they go back to the doctor, preferably the same emergency room. If we change this protocol, we also need to change forms, like the ACE form from the CDC, to tell the doctors what to ask, like: “What did you do since you left here?”

If the patient can only remember a few things, they are probably having amnesia. If they can remember all of it, then they probably don’t. If they don’t remember anything, then it is a significant head injury.

We must change the way we look at the long term potential for a head injury, brain injury, in the 24 hours after the accident. We must start giving the accident victims the same type of care and concern we give athletes who are injured in sports.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447