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March 27, 2013

UCLA Uses Big Data to Prevent Brain Injuries

Ryan Hill

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1.7 million people in the United States sustain a traumatic brain injury every year. One of the biggest areas of concern for these patients is brain swelling, which causes an increase in pressure inside the skull and can become life threatening if it’s not caught in time. UCLA, with the help of Excel Medical Electronics (EME) and IBM, is turning to big data to help save more lives.

Today, when a patient comes in with a brain injury, they’re treated in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where doctors manage the patients by find out what happened to them over the previous 24 hours and reacting to that.

When a patient is admitted to the ICU with a traumatic brain injury, they’re placed under constant surveillance by bedside monitors, which measure the patient’s vital signs. Only when brain pressure crosses a critical threshold is a nurse alerted to the patient’s condition. It is then up to the nurse or physician to decide if the alarm is false or if immediate action is needed to prevent brain damage or death.

Dr. Neil Martin, professor and chair of neurosurgery at UCLA, explained that predicting brain injuries has not been an option until now because the volume of data has been too great to effectively handle.

“In the past its not been possible to integrate all of the data from thousands of data points streaming from all the monitors so that we can forecast this kind of a crisis,” Martin said.

Doctors at UCLA have begun utilizing both IBM’s InfoSphere Streams software and EME’s BedMasterEX analytics to collect information from a patient’s bedside monitor. The two programs analyze and collect data for the medical staff, which is presented in an easy-to-use interface. If there is a change in the patient’s pulse, blood and intracranial pressure, heart activity or respiration, doctors will know before anything potentially becomes life threatening.

By utilizing big data, doctors are able to switch from a reactive treatment to a more proactive approach to prevent brain swelling.

“We hope that teaming Excel Medical Electronics and IBM analytics technologies with UCLA’s expertise will lead to new ways to save lives,” said John Hoffman, President, Excel Medical Electronics.

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