New solution for critical care research

01 March 2013

A new computer-based tool for filtering patient information is helping researchers to pursue cutting edge research which could help save the lives of some of the hospital’s most seriously ill patients.

QEHB’s 100-bed critical care facility is the largest single unit of its kind in Europe, and caters to the needs of patients from every specialty in the hospital.

It is vital that clinicians learn more about how to treat these patients, so research is an important part of the work done in critical care. Several trials are underway in the unit at any time, usually looking at specific aspects of care for patients with particular conditions.

To help researchers filter through the large number of patients, all of whom have complex needs, critical care researchers are working with colleagues in the hospital’s informatics team.

Critical Care tool team

Daniel Ray, Tony Whitehouse and Adam Brothwood

Every patient who is admitted to QEHB is registered on a computer system called PICS, which tracks their treatment, including the prescription of drugs and the regular monitoring of vital signs.

Dr Tony Whitehouse, who leads research in critical care, and Dr Iain Mackenzie first developed their own system for filtering the patients, but soon realised that their early success needed more sophisticated support.

“It came out of the fact that there are more and more trials being run it critical care, and Iain’s work showed the idea was a good one. It showed that a computer was actually much better at initial screening than a human,” says Dr Whitehouse.

“Then we took it further by working with the informatics team. Now by working with PICS, the system is looking at a mixture of inclusion and exclusion criteria for each trial. That presents us with lists of patients who might be eligible,” he says.

“Then we can sit down with the outputs from that process and go through each patient. It reduces the work involved by the humans, making what we do more directed.”

The system helps by removing human biases from the screening process, meaning more patients are looked at to participate in each particular trial.

“The whole point of a research trial is that you don’t select, you put everyone in who is eligible. This new system is flagging up more people as suitable to take part, and that means we’re being more scientific about what we do,” he says.

Dr Whitehouse worked with Director of Informatics Daniel Ray, who attributes much of the early success of the system to the work by Senior Data Management Developer Adam Brothwood.

“This is 100% Adam’s amazing work, with input among other things from Joe Cook, who manages the team,” he says.

“Pulling out data from PICS is something we do as standard but it’s the way Adam has integrated it and allowed new data to be recorded which is so powerful from a research data collection stance.

“We fully expect other specialties to pick this up once ITU have fully proved the concept.”