Mass Gatherings Medicine

In case you haven’t heard, the Red Sox won the World Series last week. Yes, my beloved team that “Reversed the Curse” in 2004 defied the odds yet again, going from “Worst to First” to win it all this season. Oh, how deeply, satisfyingly sweet it is.

For those who may be wondering, I did go to the games and I did go to the celebratory parade through downtown Boston. And it was all FUN, FUN — pinch me (really hard) — FUN! Just imagine a throng of deliriously happy people high-fiving and hugging one another, tears of joy flowing freely, love, elation, pride, and relief in the air. It was nothing short of euphoric. It was the epitome of the term “amazing.” Here I am at Fenway Park with Bret.


As luck would have it, when I came back to earth and returned to my office, I happened to see an article in the New York Times with a term I had never encountered before: “Mass Gatherings Medical Care.” Since I had in fact fully participated (high fives and hugs all around) in several mass gatherings during the week, it caught my eye and I went digging to learn more about it.

According to an article by Soomaroo and Murray that summarized peer-reviewed publications on the topic (PloS Currents, February 2012, revised in March of that year), mass gatherings require the provision of medical services for large populations who have assembled under unusual circumstances. These gatherings (scheduled events at sports facilities, air shows, rock concerts, outdoor celebrations, and visits by dignitaries, among others) vary in their complexity and demand for medical services.

As I continued to dig (dog + bone), I found data quantifying a few events, and out of sheer curiosity popped it into the bar graph reproduced below.


Source: Presentation by Drs. Baez & Sztajnkrycer, Division of Emergency Medicine Research, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine (click here to download the source document).

This information looked mildly interesting (and I admit I did chuckle over the fact that rock concerts are pretty high up on the list: sex, drugs, and rock and roll, odd as it may seem, apparently are hazardous to your health), but left me asking the million-dollar question: “so what?”

That’s when it hit me: I needed to take my own professional advice, and conduct research on what data and information are required for people working in this new specialty — because one graph was not going to cut it. So I asked myself, what data are required to develop reports and dashboards that will empower professionals in this new field to make informed decisions?

Here is a short list of what I think may be important in Mass Gatherings Medicine — that is, what else the analysis should consider:

  • type of event (concert, sporting, visit from dignitary, political rally)
  • crowd size
  • type and occurrence rates of medical events (drug and alcohol overdoses v. heat exhaustion)
  • weather conditions (dehydration on hot days v. frostbite on cold ones)
  • event settings (urban, rural); proximity of event to resources (hospitals, water, emergency personnel)
  • potential adverse outcomes of crowd control tactics such as the use of tear gas

As I thought about and compiled this list, I was reminded yet again of why I really love this work: there is always something new to consider — like Mass Gatherings Medicine, an area I had never fully appreciated or had occasion to think about. It was a great reminder that different types of environments and situations require us to think differently, to consider what data and other information are required and to conduct research if we aren’t completely certain.

Learning something new never gets old in my book. If you are like me and want to learn more, check out this series in The Lancet and on the site for the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Mass Gatherings Medicine.

While you’re doing that, I will be searching for another Mass Gathering of Red Sox fans, because I am not quite done celebrating. You see, learning something new is cool — but having my team win the World Series is right up there along with it.

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