IndyCar details their efforts to improve concussion diagnosis on and off-track

by Jordan Groves
Will Power (AUS), 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series, Team Penske, St. Petersburg

In a fascinating video posted on various social media sites, the IndyCar Series has gone into detail explaining it’s recent improvements regarding the diagnosis of concussion in drivers following accidents.

In the latest in the ‘IndyCar 101’ series of videos, viewable below, former racer and long-term IndyCar pundit Jon Beekhuis talks about a device that was created to help aid the process of diagnosing a concussion. The device known as I-PAS (I-Portal Portable Assessment System), was created by Neuro Kinetics and tested by the University of Miami in conjunction with IndyCar.

The device uses infrared technology and cameras to examine the ocular and neuro functions of a patient, with the individual being made to complete a number of tests. The tests – which cover both audio and visual reaction times and much more – can help to make concussion diagnosis more accurate.

The example given in the video where the I-PAS device could have made an impact in IndyCar was when Will Power crashed in practice for the 2016 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The incident occurred on the Friday of the event when Will hit the wall toward the end of the lap. The incident looked to be just a standard street circuit incident, but when Will returned to the race track on Saturday, he was complaining of nausea.

Despite not feeling well, Power soldiered on and duly dominated qualifying to take pole position; beating his own track record three times in the process. Clearly, Will had speed despite not feeling one hundred per cent, but his condition would worsen in the run-up to the race. Power displayed symptoms that led to him being diagnosed with a concussion by the IndyCar medical director.

Power thus withdrew from the race after the diagnosis, with Oriol Servia being enlisted as his substitute in the #12 car for the season-opener. It was a tough way for Will’s season to begin, damaging his hopes of taking a championship victory right away.

After the event, however, it was announced that Will had been falsely diagnosed with a concussion. It turned out that Power had been suffering from an inner-ear infection, that he had already been undergoing treatment for prior to the race weekend. This infection and it’s subsequent effects would have made it nigh-on impossible for Power to pass the previous concussion test known as SCAT (Sports Concussion Assessment Test.)

“Given the nature of his inner-ear infection, it would have been extremely difficult for Will to pass the SCAT, which is what ultimately led to the concussion diagnosis,” said the IndyCar safety consultant, Dr Terry Trammell, at the time. “At the University of Miami, they conducted a week’s worth of testing in one day, and Will was seen by multiple physicians. The doctors concluded definitively that Will had not sustained recent head trauma.”

This incident of a false diagnosis led many to begin to doubt IndyCar’s concussion protocol at the time. As a result, IndyCar began their partnership with Neuro Kinects and the University of Miami to help aid the development of the I-PAS device, which has ultimately proven to be a much more accurate method of diagnosing a concussion.

Since the development of I-PAS, the device is now used far more frequently within IndyCar. Prior to a season taking place, every driver is mandated to complete the I-PAS tests; more so that they can get used to the equipment should they need to be tested following an accident.

The I-PAS device has now been approved for use in clinical diagnosis in the United States, with the device being yet another great example of how improvements in safety in the world of Motorsport can have a positive impact on wider society.

The full video – INDYCAR 101: Concussion Diagnosis – which goes into greater detail of the tests performed by the I-PAS device, is available to view below courtesy of IndyCar’s YouTube channel:

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