Peter Masiakos, MD, a pediatric trauma surgeon, wants to put himself out of business. Dr. Masiakos leads the MGH Trauma Injury Prevention and Outreach Program, which works with legislators and community organizations to pass laws that prevent injuries.
A Leader in Injury Prevention
Massachusetts General Hospital's Level One Trauma Center, one of the busiest in the state, treats more than 2,500 patients annually. Most suffer from critical injuries from falls, motor vehicle crashes, bicycle accidents and violent encounters.
"Many of these injuries are preventable," Dr. Masiakos says. "As a society, we tend to make the choice to invest in managing healthcare problems after they occur. It would be far more cost effective to prevent injuries in the first place."
Through rigorous research, Dr. Masiakos’s team has provided evidence that injury prevention laws are effective in reducing injuries, deaths and healthcare costs.
Through rigorous research, Dr. Masiakos's team has provided evidence that injury prevention laws are effective in reducing injuries, deaths and healthcare costs. Since passage of the Junior Operator Law, which restricts certain activities for young drivers, the number of motor vehicle injuries in Massachusetts has decreased by 47 percent. Furthermore, this law has saved dozens of lives each year and resulted in more than $10 million in healthcare savings over five years.
Being Careful is Not Good Enough
Dr. Masiakos became involved in advocacy in 2006 after he cared for an eight-year-old who died as a result of injuries sustained from a neighbor’s ATV. Initially, the boy’s parents asked him to help them advocate for a law addressing the dangers ATVs pose for children.
He was astounded to learn just how dangerous ATVs were. Over a 10-year period, twice as many children had been killed across the United States from ATV crashes as from gun accidents.
"It was no longer enough for me to say that children should be careful when they ride ATVs and to continue treating those who were injured riding them," Dr. Masiakos says. "The data compelled me to become an advocate for a change in public policy that included age restriction as well as vehicle registration, adult supervision and training and education."
In 2010, "Sean's law" was passed, prohibiting the use of ATVs by children under 14 years old. Since then, no Massachusetts child under 14 has been killed in an ATV accident, and the number of brain injuries in children under 16 has reduced by half.
The law has saved about $68 million in healthcare costs and has inspired other states and countries to reform ATV laws. In 2015, Dr. Masiakos traveled to Australia to present lessons learned and help guide efforts to regulate ATVs.
A Force for Change
Dr. Masiakos and his team embrace the role of the physician-advocate. In 2011, the group worked with policymakers to pass a law requiring that high school athletic staff be trained in concussion awareness. Students suspected of having a concussion must receive written medical clearance before they can return to play.
More recently, Dr. Masiakos and Tim Wilens, MD, co-director of the MGH Center for Addiction Medicine, have testified against the Massachusetts ballot referendum to legalize nonmedical marijuana. “Half of all substance abuse disorders begin in adolescence,” Dr. Masiakos says. “Early addiction predicts a more pernicious and longer course of these disorders in adults.”
Why Philanthropy Matters
“As a society, we tend to make the choice to invest in managing healthcare problems after they occur. It would be far more cost effective to prevent injuries in the first place.”
Providing testimony, conducting research and developing educational programs are time-consuming activities not reimbursed by insurers. Janice Morris and Michael Coggin are early supporters who understand the importance of advocacy.
"What we love about Peter's work is that he is preventing traumatic injuries," Janice says. "Thanks to his efforts, Massachusetts has produced some of the most forward thinking injury prevention laws in the country that have been modeled by other states. We were reminded of the importance of his work when we recently read of a tragic and unnecessary death of a toddler in Maine who died when the ATV he was riding on flipped over. We are proud to support Peter and the Injury Prevention Program."
Isabelle and Ian Loring also support Dr. Masiakos’s efforts. "Four years ago, Dr Masiakos came into our lives miraculously when we unexpectedly found ourselves in the hospital emergency room with our 12-year-old son," Isabelle says. "Dr Masiakos' astute and thorough investigation and evaluation led to the diagnosis of a very rare condition. We were so impressed and grateful; it was our joy to support him to express our thanks."