injury prevention

Injury Prevention – Dr Emily Sullivan

In Medical Concepts by Nadim LalaniLeave a Comment

“Find some reason that makes you want to advocate for injury prevention and start advocating!” Dr. Emily Sullivan

A while back one of my senior residents gave us an engaging talk on injury prevention. I was so inspired that I asked her to guest blog on ERmentor – enjoy!


Patients suffering from injuries are commonly seen in everyone’s emergency department. Thankfully, injuries can be studied and understood just like any other disease. By incorporating the prevention strategies discussed below you’ll be able to reduce both morbidity and mortality in your injured patients, your community, and your country!

The Burden of Injury in Saskatchewan

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As you can see from the above chart, a large percentage of SK residents suffer injuries annually, with increasing incidence in younger age groups. Additionally, males are 5% more likely to suffer injuries than females.

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Thankfully many injuries we see are minor, for example strains or sprains.

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However, devastating morbidity and mortality does occur. In children, young adults, and overall, motor vehicle collisions are the most common cause of fatal injury. Older adults often succumb from self inflicted injuries while in the elderly it’s often from falls.

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Interestingly, while the summer months are the most common time for younger age groups to suffer from an injury, in patients 65+, late fall and early winter (corresponding with the first snowfall in SK) is the highest risk time.

The Burden of Injury in Canada

  • Leading cause of death for Canadians 1-34yo
  • 6th leading cause of death for all ages
  • 2nd leading cause of potential years of life lost before 70yo
  • 2003 Canadian Data
    • 13,906 died as a result of injuries
    • 226,436 admitted to hospital because of injuries
  • 2009-10 Canadian Data
    • 27 million Canadians >11yo suffered an injury severe enough to limit usual activity (15% of the population)
      • 27% of 12-19yo (2/3 of these are due to sports)
      • 14% of adults (1/2 are due to work or sports)
      • 9% of seniors (1/2 are due to walking or daily household chores)

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Annual Canadian Economic Burden:

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Risk Factors for Injury

Behavioral/social risk factors:

(Use these to guide your counselling and referral)

  1. Alcohol and drug use/abuse*
    • Up to 20% of patients seen in the ED after an motor vehicle collision (MVC) meet criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD)
    • Patients with an AUD have higher rates of illness and MVC injuries compared to the rest of the population
    • Patients with an AUD are more likely to drive while intoxicated
    • Interestingly, inconsistent helmet use in children is associated with one or more parents having risky drinking habits (pubmed link)
  2. Prior injury* (watch for an upcoming blog with more info on recidivism!)
    • Patients are 10 times more likely to return to the ED if they have been seen once previously for violent injury
    • This number is even higher for domestic violence and children and teenagers with intentional injury
  3. Low income
  4. Male
  5. Age
    • Children and teens are at the highest risk

*data from Rosens

Biomechanical risk factors:

(Use these to guide your assessment and physical exam)

  1. Airbag use
  2. Seatbelt use
  3. Driving speed
  4. Helmet use

Injury Pyramid

For every death reported in the news and every injured patient we see in the ED, there are many more who sustain less severe injuries and countless near misses and risky behaviour.

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Injury Triangle

Just as the classic epidemiological triad represents the relationship between a host, agent, and environment, this triangle can also represent the framework for injury occurrence and prevention. We can prevent injuries by stopping or altering the interaction of the host with an agent and a vector and making an environment safer.

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Haddon’s Injury Prevention Strategies From Rosens

  1. Prevent the initial marshaling of energy
  2. Reduce the amount of energy marshalled
  3. Prevent the release of energy
  4. Modify the rate of spatial distribution of the release of energy from its source
  5. Separate the energy from the host in space or time
  6. Separate the energy from the host by barrier
  7. Modify the surface or structure of impact
  8. Strengthen the host receiving the energy
  9. Rapidly detect and evaluate damage and counter its continuation and extension
  10. Reparative and rehabilitative measures

Haddon’s Matrix

An injury event can be divided into 3 modifiable phases:

  • Pre-event – production or release of energy has not yet occurred
  • Event – release of energy has occurred, but has not yet transferred to the host
  • Post-event – energy has been transferred, but damage has not yet reached its full extent

Epidemiologic factors in injury prevention include:

  • Host – the human that is affected by the energy release and transfer
  • Vehicle or agent – the vector that transfers energy
  • Environment – changes to the environment that affect the impact of one or more of the injury phases (this can include the physical, sociocultural, and political influences)

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The above Haddon matrix example shows 12 possible areas for injury intervention to prevent a motor vehicle collision. Prior to the collision, the host’s EtOH level, the car’s old tires, and the environment’s winding road all may have an influence on the collision. During the collision, the host’s use of a seatbelt, the speed of the car, and the busy environment of an intersection affect the collision. After the collision, the host’s age will affect their ability to recover, a car with a full gas tack may do further damage upon exploding, and the amount of time it takes for EMS to arrive on scene will determine how much additonal damage occurs.

How can you incorporate injury prevention into your practice?


  • Assess biomechanical risk factors and direct your evaluation
  • Document, document, document
  • Assess behavioral risk factors and predict future injury
  • Provide risk screening, counseling, and referral to prevent recidivism (more on this later!)
  • Provide systematized trauma care in the ED

“One or two sentences is all is may take to prevent future injuries. You CAN make a difference. By counselling a patient on the dangers of driving while intoxicated you may actually be saving your own life or the life of a loved one.”

Through Population Health, Research, and Policy:

  • Advocate for multidisciplinary trauma systems
  • Advocate for rapid, competent EMS services
  • Lead and support policies and environmental changes that can reduce injury
  • Educate the public, especially high-risk groups
  • Lead or participate in research to reduce injuries

“While we all enjoy clinical practice and feel fulfilled and accomplished upon helping a patient in the ED, you may be making the biggest difference of your career by taking time to promote injury prevention to a group of high school children.”

Injury Prevention for the ER Physician

All of the above can be summed up in three easy to remember E’s of Injury Prevention:

  • Education
  • Enforcement/Legislation
  • Engineering

Last Word on the author:

Dr Sullivan was born and raised in Saskatchewan. She’s currently in her PGY3 year and is also pursuing a Masters in Public Health through the U of S. She was recently awarded a $19,000 grant from SGI [on twitter @SGItweets ] to study helmet use in Saskatoon!


Use these yourselves, use these with your patients, give these to your patients!

  • Parachute Canada:
  • Saskatchewan Prevention Institute:  [twitter: @SKPrevention1]
  • CAEP Position Staements: http://caep.caCAEPPositionStatementsGuidelines

Injury surveillance in Canada is not done thoroughly and varies from province to province, but limited information can be access on the following websites:

Nadim is an emergency physician at the South Health Campus in Calgary, Alberta. He is passionate about online learning and recently made a transition into human performance coaching. He is currently working on introducing the coaching model into medical education.