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Working with northern Ontario communities to improve concussion care

Toronto, April 14, 2016

By Rebecca Goss

Young hockey players in Serpent River hold hockey helmets
Young hockey players in Serpent River hold hockey helmets purchased by the Head Injury Clinic with a grant from the Dr. Tom Pashby Sports Safety Fund, which is dedicated to the prevention of catastrophic injuries in sport and recreation. (Photo courtesy of Serpent River)

Physicians and nurses from St. Michael’s Hospital have launched an initiative to help improve concussion care in sports clinics, hospitals and health-care facilities in northern Ontario, where patients may have to travel up to three days to reach specialized care.

At the same time, hospital researchers are working with First Nations groups to study concussion trends in northern Ontario Aboriginal communities.

Dr. Donna Ouchterlony, head of the Head Injury Clinic, and Dr. Andrew Baker, head of critical care, are encouraging northern health regions to adopt the model of St. Michael’s Urgent Care Concussion Clinic to make care more accessible and efficient.

The Urgent Care Clinic bridges the gap between when a patient with a concussion visits an emergency department and, for those who need it, to see a specialist – which can take weeks.

Patients diagnosed with a concussion and discharged from the ED go home with an information booklet on their condition. A clinical nurse specialist follows up with a phone call within a few days, completes a concussion questionnaire with the patient and, based on the score the patient receives, recommends the appropriate level of care.

Dr. Ouchterlony said she planned to create video seminars for northern community health centres to help teach and improve concussion care in northern communities, including Aboriginal communities. She said they were also planning to do telemedicine consults so that patients do not have to travel to receive care.

Dr. Cindy Hunt, a senior research associate with the Head Injury Clinic who has northern nursing experience, is leading a research project to study concussion trends in northern Ontario Aboriginal communities. She said that by making an effort to understand First Nations knowledge and attitudes of concussions, the team hoped to develop a tailored approach to improve prevention, recognition and management of concussions with Ontario First Nations communities.

The study, the Fair and Safe Play project, is a collaboration between St. Michael’s, the Union of Ontario Indians and the Serpent River community, part of the Anishinabek Nation, two hours west of Sudbury.

Serpent River has a population of 1,200 and a vibrant hockey community. Its one outdoor rink sees parents, grandparents, elders and coaches gather to cheer on the child and youth hockey teams. Its love for hockey makes Serpent River an ideal community for the Fair and Safe Play project, as studies show one in 10 youth athletes will suffer a concussion while playing hockey in Canada, said Dr. Hunt.

The study was recently conducted at the Little Native Hockey League tournament, where 170 First Nations teams with players aged 4 to 18 participated in Mississauga, ON. Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of indigenous and aboriginal affairs, attended and took the concussion survey.

“Concussions are a huge and widely discussed problem right now,” Dr. Ouchtrerlony said. “The latest number that the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation is reporting 1,800 per 100,000 people receiving concussions per year, but I think it’s much more.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.