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Conflicts of Interest in Recommendations to Use Computerized Neuropsychological Tests to Manage Concussion in Professional Football Codes

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Abstract

Neuroscience research has improved our understanding of the long term consequences of sports-related concussion, but ethical issues related to the prevention and management of concussion are an underdeveloped area of inquiry. This article exposes several examples of conflicts of interest that have arisen and been tolerated in the management of concussion in sport (particularly professional football codes) regarding the use of computerized neuropsychological (NP) tests for diagnosing concussion. Part 1 outlines how the recommendations of a series of global protocols for dealing with sports-related concussions (the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Consensus Statements on Concussion in Sport) have endorsed the use of NP testing. The development of these protocols has involved experts who have links with companies that sell computerised NP tests for concussion management. Part 2 describes how some professional football leagues—in particular the National Football League (NFL), the Australian Football League (AFL) and the National Rugby League (NRL)—have mandated specific NP testing products. They have done so on the basis of these international guidelines and by engaging experts who have conflicts of interest with NP testing companies. These decisions have also been taken despite evidence that casts doubt on the reliability and validity of NP tests when used in these ways.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to Mal Parker, Eric Racine, Julia Hocking, and Adrian Carter for their comments on an earlier version of this work. This work was supported by an NHMRC Postdoctoral Fellowship.

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Correspondence to Bradley Partridge.

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Partridge, B., Hall, W. Conflicts of Interest in Recommendations to Use Computerized Neuropsychological Tests to Manage Concussion in Professional Football Codes. Neuroethics 7, 63–74 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-013-9182-z

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Keywords

  • Concussion
  • Sport
  • Conflict of interest
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
  • Neuropsychological test
  • ImPACT
  • CogState
  • NFL
  • AFL
  • NRL