Statistics in Medicine

Today we had a presentation from Dr Ellie Hothersall on how statistics are used within medicine and how important it is to have the basic maths knowledge to be able to work out simple calculations that are very important for a medical professional.
Some of the many things discussed through the lecture included drug doses for children, fluid prescribing, NEWS test which could tell the doctor how well or unwell the patient was, BMI, foetal/bump growth, mortality rates and growth and reduction of diseases. All these things are vital for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to be able to carry out and all require pretty basic maths skills.
In school, when doing maths, a very general theme that can be seen is that you’ll never need to use this outside of school in the real world. But in reality, many professions do use maths on a day to day basis so it’s important to know the fundamentals so that you are able to do your work without embarrassment or fear that you may do something wrong. For a doctor, for example, when working out what drugs to give to a child you have to take into account their weight so that you do not give them too much or too little of a drug. A mistake in calculations could be potentially fatal, as if someone is given far too much or far too little of a drug their electrolytes can be harmed which causes damage to cells and bodily functions. Even though the calculations are very simple, one small mistake could cause a lot of damage.
This is the same with the NEWS test. This test is completed by doctors or nurses and is used to look at a person’s health when in hospital. Different variables are measured, such as temperature and heart rate, and are plotted on a scale. All the points are then calculated, and a final score is worked out. The more red that is seen on the chart or the higher the score is, the more unwell a patient is.
Statistics can also be used to show Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratio (HSMR) which is a bar graph which shows the mortality rates for different hospitals across a country, in this case, England. However, there are many variables that contribute to mortality rates such as how many patients come into the hospital, the age of the patients that enter the hospital, the reason they are in hospital including others. This means the tests have to be somewhat modified, the mortality rates that are included in the graph have to be altered so that the data that is compared between the different hospitals is as similar as possible. This is done to make the statistics fair, but is it really fair if they are being slightly altered? This is one big problem with statistics as they can often be manipulated to show what the company or product want people to see and other parts of the data can be ignored.
This ties in well the discovering maths module as it relates to Liping Ma and her suggestion that all teaching professionals need to have a profound understanding of fundamental mathematics including basic ideas – the beginning principles of maths taught from a young age. We need to be able to teach pupils the basic ideas of maths appropriately so that they can go onto use these skills in their future professions too.

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