Surgeon’s Exhaustive Research Helps Shape SF Pedestrian Safety Policies

Dr. Rochelle Dicker. Photo: UCSF

We now know the economic toll and other important statistics about pedestrian injuries in San Francisco thanks to the exhaustive research of a San Francisco General Hospital trauma surgeon and her team. Dr. Rochelle Dicker, who is featured in a profile today on UCSF’s website, set out to conduct an analysis of the direct medical costs resulting from “auto-versus-pedestrian” collisions in San Francisco between 2003 and 2008.

The study, released last year, examined the cases of 3,619 pedestrians who were injured by drivers (of which 26 percent were admitted to the hospital) and found that pedestrian injuries resulted in $74 million in medical costs over that five-year period, of which about $56 million was paid by public funding through Medicare or MediCal.

“People getting hit by cars make up 22 percent of all trauma cases in San Francisco. That’s an extraordinary statistic, and we only know it thanks to Dr. Dicker and her staff. Their data can help prevent these tragedies,” said Elizabeth Stampe, the executive director of Walk San Francisco.

In the UCSF piece, Dicker — who as a surgeon treats pedestrians who are injured — says she refuses to call crashes involving autos and pedestrians accidents because “an accident implies there is nothing we can do about it. Like it’s an act of god. But an injury or crash implies that there is something we can do to potentially reduce risk and prevent harm.”

Dicker’s research, which also provided some critical numbers on where the most pedestrian injuries occur in San Francisco (District 6: Tenderloin, SoMa), is now often cited by advocates and city officials who are working to make the streets safer.

“As a prevention researcher, I have an opportunity to take my experiences and try to address the root of the problems,” she told UCSF News Service. “I wanted to figure out a way to get attention to pedestrian safety and hopefully affect policy.”

That goal is being realized as Dicker’s research is informing the development of the city’s first-ever Pedestrian Action Plan, which is currently being drafted by San Francisco’s Pedestrian Safety Task Force.  You can download the short version of her research here [pdf]).

  • She’s awesome.

  • Richard

    The the Pedestrian Advisory Committee wrote about this report in our annual report. Did you cover our report. I never see you write about our group.

  • Richard

    The the Pedestrian Advisory Committee wrote about this report in our annual report. Did you cover our report. I never see you write about our group.

  • It is great that this research is happening.  However, looking at the report, I think it actually under-reports the costs involved because it only looks at patients who come to SF General.  From the report:

    “SFGH is the only Level 1 Trauma Center serving San Francisco. As such, we receive 98% of all traumas that occur in the City and are confident that most, if not all, AVP injuries
    were treated at SFGH.”

    (AVP stands for Auto Versus Pedestrian collisions.)

    The conclusion that SF General receives 98% of the trauma (i.e. emergency room visits) brought about by auto versus pedestrian collisions is a bit extraordinary. I can see that if a person is unconscious or has had a limb severed, the ambulance is most likely to take them to SF General, but 74% of the AVP patients they treated were not admitted to the hospital, implying their injuries were not all that severe, (although their treatment certainly cost money.) If people are conscious and have non-life-threatening injuries, how many voluntarily choose SF General rather than an ER close to their home, or close to the site of the accident, or one where they have confidence they’ll be treated in under six hours? I would posit that a sizable percentage of non-life threatening (though pricey) injuries are treated at the other ER rooms in the city, and that to get any reasonable estimate of the costs of AVP collisions, all these ER room visits need to be taken into account.

    Sadly, people are so inured to extraordinary numbers these days that 74 million looks like chump change. And after all, the way our health care system is structured, it always appears as if someone besides ourselves is footing the bill.  Health care costs have ballooned to the point that 17.3% of our nation’s GDP is now consumed by health care, far more than any other country on the planet with little to show for it. Making it safe and convenient for people to walk and bike would significantly lower health care costs through reduced ER visits as well as reduced obesity, diabetes and asthma rates, but it appears when the choice is between healthy, wealthy and wise or sick, in debt and bewildered, we will choose the latter as long as we can do it at 60 mph with a Big Gulp in our hands.

  • We wrote about the PSAC’s annual report in April: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2011/04/12/citys-pedestrian-crash-toll-dwarfs-preventative-safety-costs/

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