More than half of us are traumatized at least once in our lifetimes and about two-thirds of children and adolescents will suffer at least one traumatic event. This harsh reality was recently underscored by the suffering of children and adults due to the Oklahoma tornadoes, Hurricane Sandy, the bombing at the Boston Marathon, and mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.
AHRQ-supported research has developed information systems that enable clinicians to quickly and safely care for patients physically hurt by traumatic events, and has identified approaches to help adults and children psychologically shocked by these traumas. For example, this month's cover story recounts how an AHRQ-supported health information exchange (HIE) system enabled clinicians at an Oklahoma hospital destroyed by a tornado to quickly access the medical records of patients so they could find out what medications they were on and what medical conditions they had, so their care could be quick and safe.
The Oklahoma HIE, SMRTNET (Secure Medical Records Transfer Network), has been recognized as a national health information exchange leader, enabling the secure exchange of over 2.7 million records across 68 Oklahoma cities.
While many adults eventually bounce back from traumas, up to one-third of adults develop debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is not known how many children and adolescents develop PTSD, but we know that trauma takes a huge toll on them as well.
The feature stories this month highlight AHRQ's evidence-based reviews that identify ways to prevent and treat adults with PTSD and interventions to help children exposed to traumas not due to family violence. The reviews were conducted by AHRQ's RTI International-University of North Carolina Evidence-based Practice Center. They show that, fortunately, certain therapies and medications can improve outcomes of adults with PTSD.
Evidence is weaker on how to prevent PTSD among traumatized adults already experiencing acute stress symptoms. The research review on interventions that may help children and adolescents exposed to trauma not due to family maltreatment or violence found that school-based treatments with elements of cognitive behavior therapy appear promising. However, ultimately, the report is a call to action for more research on this critical area.
If we can use health information systems to speed the delivery of safe and quality care to trauma victims and other patients, we can save lives. If we can target high-risk children or adults with effective treatments to prevent PTSD, as well as effectively treat them if they develop PTSD, we can prevent enormous suffering and societal burden. AHRQ will continue to collaborate with other Department of Health and Human Services agencies to conduct this critical research.
Carolyn Clancy, M.D.
Correction: Page 17 of the June issue mistakenly included a photo of a shot being given without protective gloves—an unsafe practice.