Lessons of War: Turning Data Into Decisions

Jonathan A. Forsberg, Benjamin K. Potter, Matthew B. Wagner, Andrew Vickers, Christopher J. Dente, Allan D. Kirk, Eric A. Elster*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Background: Recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq produced a substantial number of critically wounded service-members. We collected biomarker and clinical information from 73 patients who sustained 116 life-threatening combat wounds, and sought to determine if the data could be used to predict the likelihood of wound failure. Methods: From each patient, we collected clinical information, serum, wound effluent, and tissue prior to and at each surgical débridement. Inflammatory cytokines were quantified in both the serum and effluent, as were gene expression targets. The primary outcome was successful wound healing. Computer intensive methods were used to derive prognostic models that were internally validated using target shuffling and cross-validation methods. A second cohort of eighteen critically injured civilian patients was evaluated to determine if similar inflammatory responses were observed. Findings: The best-performing models enhanced clinical observation with biomarker data from the serum and wound effluent, an indicator that systemic inflammatory conditions contribute to local wound failure. A Random Forest model containing ten variables demonstrated the highest accuracy (AUC 0.79). Decision Curve Analysis indicated that the use of this model would improve clinical outcomes and reduce unnecessary surgical procedures. Civilian trauma patients demonstrated similar inflammatory responses and an equivalent wound failure rate, indicating that the model may be generalizable to civilian settings. Interpretation: Using advanced analytics, we successfully codified clinical and biomarker data from combat patients into a potentially generalizable decision support tool. Analysis of inflammatory data from critically ill patients with acute injury may inform decision-making to improve clinical outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. Funding: United States Department of Defense Health Programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1235-1242
Number of pages8
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical decision support
  • Combat trauma
  • Decision analysis
  • Inflammation
  • Wound healing


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