Sometimes it requires using a novel approach to tease out health impacts related to climate change. A recent study did just that, coordinating electronic medical records across hospitals to identify trends in hospitalizations related to snowfall events.
Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology on January 30, 2017, the study examined data for 433,037 adults hospitalized at the four largest hospitals in Boston from November to April for the years 2010-2015. The authors of the study, including Professor of Biostatistics Francesca Dominici and Research Associate Jennifer Bobb, focused on admissions for cardiovascular diseases; cold-weather related conditions such as frostbite; and falls and injuries.
The study found that hospital admissions for cardiovascular diseases decline on days with major snowfalls, but they jump by 23% two days later. In addition, the study indicated that cardiovascular disease admissions were higher on days of moderate (5 to 10 inches), rather than high, snowfall.
While the mechanisms by which snowstorms lead to adverse cardiovascular events are not fully understood, snow shoveling may be one such factor. Another motive for the delay in hospital admissions for cardiovascular events is that more people may stay indoors during heavy snowfalls, and could face delays in getting to the hospital during snow emergencies.
Integrated data science approaches involving the analysis of electronic medical records will become increasingly important as severe weather events become more frequent with global climate change. According to Bobb, currently at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, “Understanding trends in hospitalizations related to snowfall will help us develop ways to protect public health during harsh winter conditions.”