IT could improve care for patients with traumatic brain injuries
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IT could improve care for patients with traumatic brain injuries

Many times, split-second decisions are the difference between life and death in the healthcare industry. In order to ensure that patients have the best chance of improvement, hospitals may need to place themselves on the cutting edge of medical IT technology. With the help of experts at IBM and Excel Medical Electronics (EME), the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery is embarking on a project to determine the potential of advanced tools for treating individuals with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) more effectively.

According to IBM, doctors today are limited in their ability to address medical emergencies in TBI sufferers. While bedside monitors that can detect critical levels of pressure in the brain do exist, they are currently only able to alert healthcare professionals to danger when the condition has already reached potentially life-threatening levels.

Through this study, UCLA hopes to harness IBM and EME's big data analytics software to test a system in which warning signs of rising brain pressure are broadcast to nurses and physicians through the analysis of a variety of vital signs. If the technology works, it may be possible for doctors to take preventative, rather than reactive, action to stabilize TBI patients.

The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 1.7 million Americans sustain a TBI each year, IBM noted. Among them, 275,000 require hospitalization and 52,000 die. With the help of more timely and accurate condition updates, outcomes could be improved for thousands of individuals.

"The field of big data analytics is evolving to include new kinds of data from sources such as medical monitors, giving us insights into patients that weren't previously possible," said Martin Kohn, chief medical scientist at IBM Research. "We believe that UCLA's promising research may one day transform the way that doctors and nurses interact with patients inside the neuro-intensive care unit."

One population that may benefit from this emerging technology is military personnel. Per a recent report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (IOM), among service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, between 19.5 and 22.8 percent sustained mild TBI. IOM explained that one reason this may be of concern, other than immediate health issues, is the overlap of TBI with other conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Department of Veterans Affairs similarly pointed out the comorbidity of TBI and PTSD, which exists for mild TBI cases and more severe ones as well. Better treatment of brain injuries could potentially lead to improvements to the treatment of PTSD as well, as these advancements could open up further research opportunities or provide important insights.