Using new hospital toolies to help Gold Coast schoolies

Doctors and scientists are encouraging school leavers to party safe this schoolies week. AAP

For the first time, Gold Coast hospitals are preparing for schoolies using technology to predict when drunk and injured teens will need help.

With over 28,000 school leavers about to descend on the Gold Coast this week, experts using the CSIRO software believe there will be around 2700 people turning up to Gold Coast emergency departments and around 20% of these will be schoolies.

Gold Coast Health’s director of patient flow James Lind, who has been involved with the project, said “with the help of this software we are ready for any medical scenario”.

As well as predicting for the first time how many injured school leavers will be trying to access medical services, the Patient Admission Prediction Tool - which has been rolled out across 31 Queensland hospitals - will help hospital staff predict what kind of injuries will need treating.

The most common injuries among 17 to 19 year-olds are expected to include acute drunkenness from alcohol, grazes and cuts to feet, hands and heads, ankle and foot sprains, drug poisoning, asthma attacks, reaction to severe stress, lower abdominal pain and broken noses.

Intoxication is the single biggest reason schoolies turn up to hospitals or at medical tents for treatment, with the number of schoolies presenting for alcohol intoxication tripling between 2011 and 2012.

But the length of stay for young people is actually reduced during schoolies week, showing that hospital strategies were helping frontline medical staff to treat party goers quickly.

This is the first time the CSIRO and Queensland government funded software has been used for schoolies week to predict patient numbers and types of injuries. It works by using past hospital emergency data, and then taking into account population growth and other seasonal factors.

Dr Lind said he expects the tool will help state and federal governments reach targets for cutting hospital waiting times, as well as improving the quality of treatment.

His message to revellers? “We’re expecting you, we know how many of you are coming, we know what problems you’re coming with and we’re ready for you… Party responsibly, don’t walk on the beaches without footwear, and look after your mates.”

The CSIRO Australian e-Health Research Centre developed the software together with Queensland Health, Griffith University and the Queensland University of Technology.

The CSIRO centre’s chief executive David Hansen said that it could save Queensland hospitals up to $23 million per year through improved efficiency from being able to plan ahead with a good degree of accuracy.

“If we’re predicting a hundred patients [in a four hour block], the software will only be one or two patients out,” he said. Mr Hansen said that accuracy should continue to improve as the model was updated with the most recent data.

Professor and Director of the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University, Steve Allsop, said that apart from using new technology, there were other good ways to prevent harm during schoolies week.

These could include “glass-free zones” like those at Rottnest Island, a popular Western Australian schoolies destination.

Professor Alsop said that parents and schools need to discuss the best ways for teenagers protect themselves and their mates, and work together to plan for and avoid violence.

“Research suggests that if parents communicate what they expect in terms of limits, those children are less likely to be among the heaviest drinkers.”

He also stressed the importance of providing alternatives to drinking by making sure that there is plenty of non-alcohol and drug-related entertainment, given that “when people are bored they tend to drink much more.”

Laws could also be more strictly enforced - including bans on serving under age people or those who were already drunk - and parents should not provide their children with drinks.