Online tool aids clinicians' efforts to treat injured workers

December 11, 2013

University of Alberta researchers have developed a new web-based tool to aid health professionals in determining the right treatment course for injured workers, helping them feel better and get back to work earlier.

Researchers used a form of called machine learning to analyze injury and treatment records from Alberta's ' compensation database to create a tool that recommends an appropriate course of . During early testing, the support tool actually outperformed clinicians.

"The goal of this tool, and all our rehabilitation strategies today, is to be able to help these people feel healthy again, participate in productive work and reintegrate into their jobs as quick as possible," said Doug Gross, an associate professor of physical therapy in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.

Gross' research is affiliated with WCB-Alberta Millard Health, a provider of occupational rehabilitation and disability management services. Much of his work focuses on finding new ways to ensure workers are physically on the right path to recovery—healing that also helps their emotional and financial well-being and the economy, he said.

"There are huge costs economically to the workers' compensation system, so we're constantly looking to improve health-care strategies to help these workers transition back to the workplace."

Computer algorithm at core of online tool

Gross teamed up with Osmar Zaïane, a professor of computing science in the Faculty of Science, to develop a computer algorithm that predicts a course of rehabilitation.

To do this, Zaïane's team relied on information from a provincial database of 8,611 workers who, after undergoing initial treatments, were referred for assessments to determine whether they were ready to return to work. The database contained details about injury types, rehabilitation methods, time between injury and rehabilitation, pain measures and overall outcomes, along with personal information such as age, sex, marital status, education and job status.

"For me, it was an obvious example of the type of approach we can do through machine learning," said Zaïane.

Every treatment recommended by the support tool was arrived at through a set of rules created using this historical evidence. "You can trust the tool's recommendations because you know how it made that decision and why."

The tool proved about 85 per cent accurate in recommending the right treatment—a success rate that was more reliable than assessments done by physical therapists, occupational therapists and exercise therapists. When patients are referred for treatments that don't result in a return to work, the machine considers it a mistake, Zaïane explained.

Currently, the tool is only being used to train students. Far more testing is required before it makes it into the hands of , with potential applications to train new staff and use in remote areas. But even then the goal isn't to replace clinicians, Gross said.

"This is about the clinicians making decisions and how we can help augment those decisions," he said. "We all make mistakes and do the best we can. We have different influences on our decisions and biases, and if there are tools out there that can help these health-care providers make better decisions, let's do it."

A study detailing their findings was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation.

Explore further: Improvement of mood associated with improved brain injury outcomes

Related Stories

Improvement of mood associated with improved brain injury outcomes

November 25, 2013
Mayo Clinic researchers found that improvement of mood over the course of post-acute brain rehabilitation is associated with increased participation in day-to-day activities, independent living, and ability to work after ...

Physical & emotional impairments common, often untreated in people with cancer

May 17, 2013
A new review finds cancer survivors suffer a diverse and complex set of impairments, affecting virtually every organ system. Writing in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, Julie Silver, M.D., associate professor at Harvard ...

Researchers explore five new avenues for rehabilitation research

November 26, 2013
Because the concept of permanent neurological injury has given way to recognition of the brain's potential for long-term regeneration ad reorganization, rehabilitations strategies are undergoing radical changes. The potential ...

Researchers turn to machines to identify breast cancer type

December 2, 2013
Researchers from the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services have created a computer algorithm that successfully predicts whether estrogen is sending signals to cancer cells to grow into tumours in the breast. By ...

Prestigious endorsement for tool which assesses patient recovery

October 28, 2013
The Post-Operative Quality Recovery Scale (PQRS), a tool that allows clinicians to measure the quality of their patients' recovery from surgery and anaesthesia, has been endorsed by the European Society of Anaesthesia.

Recommended for you

Sugar not so sweet for mental health

July 27, 2017
Sugar may be bad not only for your teeth and your waistline, but also your mental health, claimed a study Thursday that was met with scepticism by other experts.

Could insufficient sleep be adding centimeters to your waistline?

July 27, 2017
Adults in the UK who have poor sleep patterns are more likely to be overweight and obese and have poorer metabolic health, according to a new study.

Vitamin E-deficient embryos are cognitively impaired even after diet improves

July 27, 2017
Zebrafish deficient in vitamin E produce offspring beset by behavioral impairment and metabolic problems, new research at Oregon State University shows.

The role of dosage in assessing risk of hormone therapy for menopause

July 27, 2017
When it comes to assessing the risk of estrogen therapy for menopause, how the therapy is delivered—taking a pill versus wearing a patch on one's skin—doesn't affect risk or benefit, researchers at UCLA and elsewhere ...

Blowing smoke? E-cigarettes might help smokers quit

July 26, 2017
People who used e-cigarettes were more likely to kick the habit than those who didn't, a new study found.

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.