Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Research to help patients with acute abdominal pain

Monday, 17 July 2017 9:13pm

Kirsten-de-Burlet-2017-image
Wellington PhD candidate Dr Kirsten de Burlet.

A PhD candidate at the University’s Wellington campus believes the way acute abdominal pain is diagnosed can be improved, and that the process for patients who need surgery can be sped up.

Dr Kirsten de Burlet’s PhD research aims to improve the efficiency of diagnosing patients with acute abdominal pain. She is developing an algorithm that will help diagnose patients more efficiently and accurately by separating patients that require urgent treatment (within 24 hours) from patients that require treatment non-urgently and may be better managed as outpatients.

Dr de Burlet, who has worked as a surgical registrar for the Capital and Coast District Health Board (CCDHB), is a Research Fellow in the Wellington campus’ Department of Surgery and Anaesthesia. She is being supervised for her PhD by Associate Professor Elizabeth Dennett and Associate Professor Peter Larsen.

“Patients present with a huge variety of issues, ranging from self-limiting to life-threatening cases,” she explains. “The algorithm aim is to differentiate the urgent versus not so urgent diagnosis and to improve access to additional diagnostics accordingly. This will improve efficiency in the diagnosis stage and help ensure that those needing surgery get it at the right time.”

"This increase is mainly due to an increasing proportion of patients being admitted with self-limiting problems, which is a significant burden to the health system and likely the case in most DHBs in New Zealand."

The research is significant and important because around 10-15 patients per day are assessed onto the surgical ward, and approximately 90 per cent of the acute surgical admissions in Wellington Hospital are patients presenting with abdominal pain.

“My first project which assessed the diagnostic pathway of these patients over the last decade has shown that the number of surgical admissions nearly doubled, while Wellington population has only increased with approximately 10 per cent. This increase is mainly due to an increasing proportion of patients being admitted with self-limiting problems, which is a significant burden to the health system and likely the case in most DHBs in New Zealand.”

Dr de Burlet won best poster prize at the New Zealand Association of General Surgeons in March in Palmerston North, on one aspect of her study about the appropriateness of CT scans of the abdomen for patients with acute abdominal pain.

She was also awarded best research paper at the Annual Scientific Congress of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) in May in Adelaide. Her presentation and paper in Adelaide was on: How accurate is our early differentiation between the urgent and non-urgent patient presenting with abdominal pain?

“Kirsten’s research represents a great partnership between Wellington Hospital (CCDHB) and the University, as we work together on ways to improve and optimise clinical care for this group of patients,” Associate Professor Larsen says.