Data mining for the beginning practice researcher

Ros Giles, Irwin Epstein and Anne Vertigan produced their book Clinical data mining in an allied health organisation: A real world experience (2011, Sydney Uni Press) as a result of working with very fortunate clinicians in Australia’s Hunter Valley.

This week in a workshop with Professor Giles, she reminded us just how much ready made data we are surrounded by when we work in Health. Statistics, file notes, monthly reports, correspondence, meeting minutes.

Heaps of ideas were developed by the 20 participants. Two of these were:

a file audit of social work notes, what information are we and aren’t we collecting? and

a record check of what happened, or didn’t for people over 70 who had a hospital readmission within 72 hours.

Afterwards I thought about my list of hospital referrals. I keep it pretty much for my own information but, if I was to do it a bit more consienciously – clean up my data collection, it would be more useful. If we’re collecting it might as well be useful, right?

What I could use this data for?( and it could be via a student); to look at the pattern of hospital referrals over time, their percentage of my clinical workload, and, if I went through ethics, what they involved. I’d have to go through ethics to access the files and certainly if a student was to. With this information, all stored within metres of my desk, I would have a clear and accurate picture of the social work service I provide into the hospital (I’m based in community health).

Now I know that’s not going to set the world on fire but its a great example of how a beginner practitioner can use service evaluation type research right from the get go to develop a research habit – something that is very much needed in our next generation of practitioners if we are going to be taken seriously as a profession.

… and I might just use that as a project for my next student to demonstrate how accessible data mining is as an entry level research strategy.

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