National Ambulance Surveillance System: A novel method using coded Australian ambulance clinical records to monitor self-harm and mental health-related morbidity

Dan I. Lubman, Cherie Heilbronn, Rowan P. Ogeil, Jessica J. Killian, Sharon Matthews, Karen Smith, Emma Bosley, Rosemary Carney, Kevin McLaughlin, Alex Wilson, Matthew Eastham, Carol Shipp, Katrina Witt, Belinda Lloyd, Debbie Scott

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Self-harm and mental health are inter-related issues that substantially contribute to the global burden of disease. However, measurement of these issues at the population level is problematic. Statistics on suicide can be captured in national cause of death data collected as part of the coroner's review process, however, there is a significant time-lag in the availability of such data, and by definition, these sources do not include non-fatal incidents. Although survey, emergency department, and hospitalisation data present alternative information sources to measure self-harm, such data do not include the richness of information available at the point of incident. This paper describes the mental health and self-harm modules within the National Ambulance Surveillance System (NASS), a unique Australian system for monitoring and mapping mental health and self-harm. Data are sourced from paramedic electronic patient care records provided by Australian state and territory-based ambulance services. A team of specialised research assistants use a purpose-built system to manually scrutinise and code these records. Specific details of each incident are coded, including mental health symptoms and relevant risk indicators, as well as the type, intent, and method of self-harm. NASS provides almost 90 output variables related to self-harm (i.e., type of behaviour, self-injurious intent, and method) and mental health (e.g., mental health symptoms) in the 24 hours preceding each attendance, as well as demographics, temporal and geospatial characteristics, clinical outcomes, co-occurring substance use, and self-reported medical and psychiatric history. NASS provides internationally unique data on self-harm and mental health, with direct implications for translational research, public policy, and clinical practice. This methodology could be replicated in other countries with universal ambulance service provision to inform health policy and service planning.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0236344
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7 July
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020

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