100 Ways of Using Data to Make Lives Better

Predicting Which Patients in Scotland Might Need Critical Care

Published on: 22nd February 2017

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Public Health
Case Study 16

Project Lead: Mr Damian Mole, University of Edinburgh

By linking the records of healthcare databases in Scotland, researchers were able to identify which people are at risk of being admitted to critical care with acute pancreatitis, leading to the improvement of their care.

The Challenge

Acute pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas which causes severe abdominal pain. It is usually caused by gallstones or excessive alcohol consumption, with an episode normally lasting a few days. However, 20-30% of patients can become critically ill when inflammation of the pancreas leads to inflammation in other organs. By improving the ways in which patients with acute pancreatitis can be recognised, scientists and clinicians can identify the people who are most likely to become critically ill and improve their treatment.

The Research

A research team, which involved the University of Edinburgh, NHS Lothian and industry partners GSK, used data to identify 2,053 cases of acute pancreatitis, of which 368 patients became critically ill.

The team looked at data from patients who were recorded as having general or severe acute pancreatitis between 2009 and 2012. They gained permission for different aspects of the research from a wide range of organisations, with very tight controls on how the data was used. Data came from primary and secondary care, including general practices, A&E departments, critical care departments and death records. Overall, NHS Scotland Information Services Division was responsible for providing and carefully controlling the access the researchers had to the data, keeping it anonymous at all times so that individuals could not be identified.

The Results

The large amount of data on acute pancreatitis cases played an important role in the evidence gathered from this research. The team found that, although all the data they used is routinely collected within the health service, having access to it all linked together at a national level gave them a “powerful resource”. This helped predict which patients might require critical care and which may be at risk of dying as a result of severe acute pancreatitis.

The Impact

In August 2016, the British Medical Journal published a paper by the research team on identifying risk factors in patients who become ill with acute pancreatitis. What made the project unique was that the researchers used data collected from many different sources across Scotland’s health boards that had been made available at a national level by The Farr Institute. By using data, researchers have been able to help doctors identify patients that are at high risk, allowing them to improve treatments and help prevent patients being admitted to critical care.

For more information about acute pancreatitis visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/Pancreatitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Enquiries to Cherry Martin, Communications Manager, The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research, cherry.martin@ed.ac.uk

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