Researchers have successfully demonstrated a way to identify sports and recreational injuries using existing routinely collected patient data.

The mountain of data collected from patient visits to a clinical provider, often called administrative data, can be a quick and affordable way to find out who is affected by certain health issues that occur after sports and recreational activities like basketball or rugby. Re-using the administrative data to conduct surveillance of health issues is a very important step to help keep people who participate in those activities out of the doctor’s office and on the pitch. Yet, turning administrative data into a form that gives us answers requires a lot of time, energy, and knowledge.

A team from Virginia Tech in the USA tackled this problem head on in their quest to make sure that more researchers could learn their technique and apply this knowledge to creating healthy populations, and published their results in the International Journal of Population Data Science (IJPDS).

Clinicians and researchers recommend physical activity like tennis or basketball or hiking to people as a way to take care of themselves and as a way to have fun, and millions of people act upon this advice. But we know that there is always a chance of injury and this sometimes results in people needing treatment in emergency departments or hospitals. Governments and health researchers track this type of data to inform the public, research how to reduce the problem, and to write policies like changing the rules of sport to improve safety.

Despite the importance of physical activity, not every country has the financial resources needed to count every person that is active and every issue that happens to them, or their other health issues. This is where existing administrative data and other data collected by governments or patients could be combined to fill the gap.

Driven by a passion for observing what happens when people that play sports or participate in other recreational activities across their life, the research team needed to build a data set with that information with specific consideration for each person’s specific circumstances.

The study’s lead author, Charlotte Baker, is excited about how the information can be used. “Nearly everyone has a smartphone and email today. We all get dozens of surveys from marketers and large health surveys that are very important to be filled out to help our countries best serve us. These are time consuming! Instead of asking people to spend even more time answering some questions that we already know the answer to, why not use data that already exists? While it sounds simple, getting the data in shape enough to help us help people is not always easy. We hope the directions published in this new article give others a roadmap to address not only injury problems but other health issues.”


You can read the full results of this study here.

Charlotte Baker, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, Virginia Tech

Baker, C., Nottingham, Q. and Holloway, J. (2022) “Lessons in Linkage: Combining Administrative Data Using Deterministic Linkage for Surveillance of Sports and Recreation Injuries in Florida, United States”, International Journal of Population Data Science, 7(1). doi: 10.23889/ijpds.v7i1.1749.