Sunday, January 23, 2011

Could Medicine Learn Something From Sports Statistics?

In my teen years I was a baseball statistic junkie.  I stayed up late playing Earl Weaver Baseball on my Amiga 500, played Pursue The Pennant and had a wicked collection of baseball cards, that now are all gone (*sniff*).  I fell out of that phase but in a recent ESPN Magazine article I was inspired to think again about how medicine often struggles to be creative at times, especially when it comes to our data.  We have tons of data in health care, but do we really analyze it in the best way possible?


So what is the stat which got me thinking?  Not PAP, BABIP, VORP, WARP, wOBA or xFIP.  And yes if you think medicine has cornered the market on acronyms you would be mistaken.  The stat is Win Probability.  From ESPN Magazine, Win Probability is the expected chance that a team will win a game at a particular moment in time given the situation it faces. And if you know anything about me, you know I am fascinated by prognosis and the lack of research into this very vital question.  And Win Probability is probably the most innovative way to think about prognostication I have heard in a while.



If you go to the site Advanced NFL Stats you can actually move the cursor on the graph and see what event was happening and what the situation was that changed the Win Probability.  What is nice about Win Probability is that it can help identify what the crucial plays (treatments/complications) are in a game (hospital course) which may influence the outcome.  I think the ability for a family or patient to understand this may be much better than broad statements of prognostication or even the ranges so familiar to palliative practitioners.

The magazine article discusses that how we experience sports is really related emotionally and viscerally to the Win Probability.  A big socre changes the odds in our teams favor.  A successful surgery for a patient greatly improves her chances of survival.  How you would actually implement Win Probability in health care deserves a day long conference and think tank session, but a football game is an unbelievably complex situation with chaos and rules and parts that are manageable and parts that are unexpected, just like the rest of life, or weather which contrary to common wisdom has greatly increased predictive ability.

Are there any other statistics from sports we could help us in medical decision making?

Other Win Probability sites: Baseball FanGraphs
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