How MEDIC created a symptom-monitoring app for McMaster University’s CanChild Research Centre to help youth with concussions

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CanChild at McMaster University is an applied clinical and health services research centre focused on children and youth with disabilities and their families. CanChild asked MEDIC to design and develop the Back2Play Concussion Monitoring App. The app uses an iPhone and Apple Watch to monitor symptoms of adolescents who have sustained a concussion while playing sports. 

Future Ready Challenge

We’ve all heard tragic stories of sports injuries that end or permanently damage a life. The public has become more aware of brain injury, such as concussions, as a serious issue for children, especially in sports. A concussion is a form of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) that may alter how the brain functions and a significant number of children and youth get a concussion while playing sports. In 2016-2017 alone, Ontario and Alberta pediatric emergency departments reported 17,000+ sports-related brain injuries: 94% were concussion-related. 

The short- and long-term consequences of a concussion and other TBI can be severe — especially for children and youth. As a result, parents and health care providers can find it challenging to decide when children can return to activity (RTA) and return to school (RTS) following a concussion.

R & D Collaboration

CanChild at McMaster University is an applied clinical and health services research centre focused on children and youth with disabilities and their families. Professor Carol DeMatteo and her research team have developed evidence-based RTS and RTA guidelines for parents and children/youth to follow. However, they found that children and youth had difficulties following the guidelines. With funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the research team has undertaken a multi-year study to evaluate these RTS and RTA guidelines. 

The CanChild researchers asked the MEDIC team to develop an app that could be used by participants in their research study. The Back2Play App is designed to guide children and youth through the concussion recovery phases so they can return to school and sports safely and effectively. This helps to improve quality of life and prevent subsequent concussions.

Innovative Results

The MEDIC team adopted a co-design approach that invited input from technical and healthcare professionals and a user group of adolescent concussion patients and used an agile methodology emphasizing multiple reviews, test prototypes and revisions based on feedback.

The MEDIC researchers designed and built an iOS application that uses an iPhone and Apple Watch to monitor and report patient symptoms while helping children and youth understand the effects of concussion. 

MEDIC collected and refined requirements, and designed the User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) to build a working prototype for testing. MEDIC ensured that work reflected CanChild technical requirements, and balanced those with the Apple Store review guidelines, development guidelines, and interface guidelines. After testing the app and the UI/UX with adolescent concussion patients, the final version of the Back2Play App was published to the Apple Store. 

The CanChild team will be launching a pilot testing of the app with 30 children and youth. A Randomized Controlled Trial will then evaluate whether the Back2Play App shortens the duration and intensity of concussion symptoms and prevents repeat injury in children and youth. After the pilot test, MEDIC will provide additional functionality, including the integration of the iOS platform (phone and watch) with Machine Learning algorithms to provide enhanced prediction and classification of stages of recovery to actively guide the youth through the RTA and RTS protocols.

CanChild thanked MEDIC for “guiding us through technical requirements and processes we did not understand, consistently addressing concerns about functionality, and giving additional support as needed in these challenging times.”