Predicting the unpredictable: The data behind random trauma events
If you’re aged 55 to 65 and ride a quad bike, watch out.
If you’re Maori, male and play rugby in the Bay of Plenty, good luck.
And if you’re a man riding a pushbike around the Lakes district, best keep your wits about you.
Road smashes, falls, burns, assaults and workplace accidents – events which, to the untrained eye, seem like happenings without design, are turning out to be not such random events.
But metadata mined in the central North Island show mishaps can be predicted on a population-wide scale. The data also opens up the possibility of real-time apps being developed to predict risk.
Dr Grant Christey sees trauma events as parts of a greater picture: a jigsaw which, when pieced together, could help minimise the future impact of trauma on our communities.
Christey is clinical director of the Midland Trauma System and has been at the forefront of efforts to develop an online data platform detailing incidents of trauma across the Midland region. This region covers the middle of the North Island.
“We’ve got enough data so that we can now say a certain person is at risk of a certain type of injury at a certain time of day.
The new data platform brings together information from stakeholders such as St John, NZTA, police and five DHBs.
It’s hoped the initiative will promote a better understanding of trauma patients and their injuries and prevent more injuries in the community.
“We’ve now got five years of data, which means we’ve got information that allows us to predict injury rates for different groups of people in the community using various indicators, such as age and gender, ethnicity, types of activity, time of day, and day of the week,” Christey said.
Christey spoke at the two-day Midland Trauma Symposium in Hamilton on Thursday and said the data platform will go live on July 1.
The data platform opens up the possibility of real-time risk apps being developed which could tell users what sort of dangers they face, based on the time of day and their particular circumstances.
“Our mantra is trauma is preventable and that’s because after seeing so many thousands of patients there are patterns that occur across most trauma.
“There are risks that apply to patients and eventually an injury becomes inevitable when you stack them all up together such as late at night, poor visibility, speed, alcohol, bad tyres, distraction in the vehicle. Add all those things together and there’s a high chance you’ll get a crashed vehicle.”
MetService data will also be fed into the data platform.
Currently, the Midland Trauma System is working with a range of stakeholders on different studies to make better sense of the data.
For example, trauma data reveals a huge peak in quad bike injuries among the 55 to 65 age group.
“Together with Wintec we’ve got work under way to try to find out what the risk factors for that age group are, whether it’s geography, type of vehicle, attitudes to quad bikes. We know the cost of these injuries is massive. In the past four years, we’ve spent $700,000 in the Waikato alone on this one age group.”
Professor Belinda Gabbe, head of the Pre-hospital, Emergency and Trauma Research Unit at Melbourne’s Monash University, said the Midland region has the potential to be a world leader in reducing the impact of trauma on its communities thanks to the depth of data collected.
However, despite the advances in understanding trauma patients and their injuries, there is always room for improvement.
A trend in Australia is the growing number of elderly suffering traumatic injuries.
“Elderly are more active and are driving later in life, doing all those things that can put you at risk,” Gabbe said.
“And how you manage an elderly patient is quite different to how you’d manage a younger patient because of all the pre-existing health conditions they have. So we have to be constantly vigilant.”
A common challenge when treating older persons is their use of preventive medication, such as anticoagulants (blood thinners).
Some new age blood thinners can be difficult to reverse.
“If a person falls and starts to bleed, sometimes it can’t be stopped, so people can die from relatively minor events.”
At a glance
- 5000 people in the Midland region require hospitalisation as a result of injury each year
- In Waikato, NZ Europeans are at high risk of motorbike crashes in all age groups
- In Bay of Plenty, male Maori aged 15-34 have high rates of sports related injury
- In Lakes district, males account for 78 per cent of all pushbike trauma