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The Brain Injury Data Project

Considering there is still so many unknowns when it comes to brain injuries, it is often difficult for doctors, patients, and their families to understand their recovery expectations. If you break your arm, doctors can say with reasonable certainty that if you properly cast it, then the bone will heal and give a rough time for everything to be fixed. The same does not often work with something like a traumatic brain injury. Doctors often do not know how much will heal or at what speed.

One way to help provide some clarity is by properly tracking the injury and progress of many different patients over a period of time. In that way data can be compiled to understand normal recovery times and extent of recovery. That is the idea behind the large and long-standing “Brain Injury Data Project” which has been run by the U.S. Government for the past quarter century.

Tracking Brain Injuries
An Atlantic story discusses how the existence of the data set, and the comparison that is allows, often acts as a rubric by which patients can push themselves in their recovery. Understanding the percentage chance that someone might walk again or whether they will regain speech can be answered with much more clarity as a result of the data project and its results.

Officially known as the “Traumatic Brain Injury Model System” (TBIMS), the project allows doctors are able to develop treatment plans based on more than just guesswork. TBIMS was started in 1987 and has tracked the injury and progress of over 10,000 patients. The articles explains that “The database has become the gold standard for clinically describing the variations and possibilities in these patients’ outcomes.”

About half of the patients included in the data set were hurt in auto accidents. As blog readers know, car accidents are the single most common even which leads to TBIs in community members. However, the database also include new data from service members hurt in fighting overseas. That is because the Veterans’ Affairs Department also tracks information in a parallel manner. The goal is that by creating a dual system, experts can determine if there are any difference between combat injuries and civilian injuries. Things like unique bacteria found in Iraq and Afghanistan and the existence of shrapnel might alter projections and outcomes. Comparisons with the dual systems might help to bring those differences out for investigation.

Tweaking the Data
Right now the best use of the data is for professionals to create evidence-based data plans. Doctors can input different factors about the injury and then receive data about averages. This may help create benchmarks for likely length of stay at the hospital or ability to recover certain skills. However, even with the size of the data thus far, the database is still a far from a perfect predictor. Those most familiar with the project note that right now those projections are accurate about 50% of the time. While that leaves a lot of room for improvement, it is still significantly better than random guesses based on conjecture.

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