Automating the aetiological classification of descriptive injury data

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Copyright: Shepherd, Gareth William
Injury now surpasses disease as the leading global cause of premature death and disability, claiming over 5.8 millions lives each year. However, unlike disease, which has been subjected to a rigorous epidemiologic approach, the field of injury prevention and control has been a relative newcomer to scientific investigation. With the distribution of injury now well described (i.e. who , what , where and when ), the underlying hypothesis is that progress in understanding how and why lies in classifying injury occurrences aetiologically. The advancement of a means of classifying injury aetiology has so far been inhibited by two related limitations: 1. Structural limitation: The absence of a cohesive and validated aetiological taxonomy for injury, and; 2. Methodological limitation: The need to manually classify large numbers of injury cases to determine aetiological patterns. This work is directed at overcoming these impediments to injury research. An aetiological taxonomy for injury was developed consistent with epidemiologic principles, along with clear conventions and a defined three-tier hierarchical structure. Validation testing revealed that the taxonomy could be applied with a high degree of accuracy (coder/gold standard agreement was 92.5-95.0%), and with high inter- and intra- coder reliability (93.0-96.3% and 93.5-96.3%). Practical application demonstrated the emergence of strong aetiological patterns which provided insight into causative sequences leading to injury, and led to the identification of effective control measures to reduce injury frequency and severity. However, limitations related to the inefficient and error-prone manual classification process (i.e. average 4.75 minute/case processing time and 5.0-7.5% error rate), revealed the need for an automated approach. To overcome these limitations, a knowledge acquisition (KA) software tool was developed, tested and applied, based on an expert-system's technique known as ripple down rules (RDR). It was found that the KA system was able acquire tacit knowledge from a human expert and apply learned rules to efficiently and accurately classify large numbers of injury cases. Ultimately, coding error rates dropped to 3.1%, which, along with an average 2.50 minute processing time, compared favourably with results from manual classification. As such, the developed taxonomy and KA tool offer significant advantages to injury researchers who have a need to deduce useful patterns from injury data and test hypotheses regarding causation and prevention.
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Shepherd, Gareth William
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PhD Doctorate
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