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Epic Systems: US Saw Huge Increase In Gun Violence Last Year

Study: Shooting Incidents Were Up 73 Percent In October

Police officers with firearms from a buyback program
In this May 22, 2021, file photo officers from the NYPD firearm and tactical unit pack collection of illegal guns after a gun buyback event in Brooklyn, N.Y. Gun violence is on the rise across the country and law enforcement agencies are struggling with how to manage the spikes, especially in cities. The federal government has stepped in with strike forces and other measures help to stop the sale of illegal weapons. Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo

The United States saw a sharp increase in firearm injuries last year, according to a new study from Epic Health Research Network.

Researchers from the Wisconsin-based health care software company found shooting incidents began to surge last spring. Compared to the previous two years, health care visits for firearm injuries were up 73 percent in October, and they spiked again this April, the last month included in the study.

“I think the most important thing we found is that there is a significant increase in firearm injuries, really, across the country, at a time when all other visit volumes are drastically decreased,” said Johnston Thayer, a nurse who is a clinical informaticist at Epic and one of the study’s authors.

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Studies show health care visits were down between 10 and 30 percent last year, depending on the month, Thayer said. While many Americans stayed home during the coronavirus pandemic and hospitals canceled elective surgeries, shooting incidents rose dramatically.

“To see such a large uptick in a particular problem is something that we rarely see,” Thayer said. “We’ve done lots of studies on many different topics, and this is one of the most striking sets of numbers that I’ve seen in terms of an increase.”

According to the study, the increase affected patients of all ages and races — but it didn’t impact them equally. Black and Hispanic men were disproportionately affected by the uptick in shooting incidents. Firearm injuries increased by 89 percent for Black Americans and 40 percent for their white counterparts, compared to 2018 and 2019 baselines.

Though the study examines a national trend, it seems Wisconsin communities have also been impacted. Milwaukee recorded a record number of homicides last year — a sad milestone it’s on track to beat in 2021.

Gun violence has also increased in Green Bay this year, said Operations Commander Kevin Warych of the Green Bay Police Department. Many of the shootings have been spurred by petty disputes, he said.

“A lot of the gun violence we’re seeing involves a lot of young kids, kids that should never have guns,” he said.

Warych didn’t want to speculate on whether the pandemic itself is driving the increase in shootings, but he said police are studying the trend and working with community partners to intervene. Even though the shootings aren’t random, and the public isn’t necessarily in danger, gun violence can still have a big impact on the entire community.

“Think of someone living on a street where a shooting occurs,” Warych said. “All of a sudden, that traumatic event happened two houses down, and now they’re living with some anxiety.”

For the Epic study, researchers looked at how many active patients sought care for gunshot wounds, only considering initial visits, Thayer said. The data came from 118 million patients at more than 700 hospitals, where Epic software is used, across all 50 states. The study doesn’t include firearm injuries that resulted in death, Thayer said.

The Verona-based software firm launched its Epic Health Research Network last year to derive timely insights from patient data.

“It’s something we’d been talking about for some time, even before the pandemic, recognizing that there is often a need for good data to be available quickly for key decisions and trends that are affecting the U.S. health care system,” Thayer said.

Researchers investigated firearm injuries at the behest of the HEAL Initiative, a group of hospitals working to address gun violence in Chicago, Thayer said.