Dr. Megan L. Ranney, an attending emergency physician at Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital, founded and directs the Emergency Digital Health Innovation Program at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. She is an associate professor of emergency medicine at the medical school and an associate professor of health services, policy and practice at the university’s School of Public Health.
Ranney also serves as chief research officer for the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine and has held roles on numerous national and local task forces related to efforts to stem gun violence, including co-chairing Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s Task Force on Gun Violence. She has published widely, with more than 100 scientific publications and 70 presentations at scientific meetings.
PBN: Tell us how you became interested in research into violent injury prevention and firearm injury prevention.
RANNEY: As an emergency physician, I see violent injuries – and their long-term effects – every single day. It is impossible to not care about stopping this epidemic when you see what we see.
Early on, I was told that I couldn’t research firearm injury because there was no funding and because it was too political. In 2012, after a series of horrible clinical cases combined with the national tragedy of Sandy Hook, I decided that I could not be silent. I needed to take on firearm injury in particular.
After all, I have kids. In the ED, I take care of kids who have been hurt and killed. Our kids need us, as clinicians and public health researchers, to come up with a better solution.
PBN: The federal budget has long lacked funding for research into the health effects of gun violence. How have you overcome that obstacle to pursue your research?
RANNEY: It’s a travesty that we have had virtually no money to research this epidemic for 22 years. In 2012, I started working with national medical societies to change the conversation about firearm injury, to make it a discussion about the injuries and the patients, rather than a discussion about politics. This work led to the creation of AFFIRM Research last year. We have the support of more than 15 national medical organizations and 40,000 physicians and other health care professionals across the country. We are funded through public donations. At AFFIRM Research, we are creating much-needed data on who gets hurt and why and we are working together to create protocols to help us stop firearm injury through clinical care. We are determined to stop repairing injuries – we instead want to focus on preventing them.
I’m also working on a few externally funded projects that look at violence in general, and two that were able to be funded during a brief period when [National Institutes of Health] was putting money into this topic. I’m mentoring a lot of junior researchers to help them get started in this field. And I’m doing a lot of unfunded research. Unfortunately, this unfunded research will never create the kinds of high-yield solutions that our society so desperately needs.
PBN: What can you tell readers about firearm violence that you find surprising?
RANNEY: One thing that surprises a lot of people is that two-thirds of firearm deaths are suicides. Most of these suicides are impulsive. As doctors, if we can better identify and counsel our high-risk patients, to avoid their having access to a gun in a moment of crisis, we can save a lot of lives.
Another thing that surprises people is that I have hope. Yes, the number of firearm injuries and deaths has been increasing in the U.S. every year since 2012. But I have science and tools that can fix this – if we just have adequate funding. Look at what we’ve done for HIV, or for cancer. We can do the same here. Through groups [such as] AFFIRM Research, through the bravery of doctors and survivors across the country, and through the work of legislators and donors who are helping to create new funding that creates innovative solutions, I’m confident that we can curb this epidemic.
PBN: Tell us a little about the intersection of digital health and violent injury prevention.
RANNEY: In today’s day and age, technology is so interwoven with the creation and the prevention of violence. And it’s an essential part of creating out-of-the-box solutions to this problem. A few examples of what I’m working on: I’m currently conducting a large randomized controlled trial of a text-messaging program that shows promise in reducing violence and depression in at-risk [youths].
We have another project that is trying to identify and stop cyberbullying, which we know leads to violence. In another study, we are looking at how kids respond to violence on social media. And we are in the planning stages for a few more projects that will really transform how we approach firearm safety on a national level. Stay tuned.
PBN: Which of the Working Group on Gun Safety recommendations delivered this fall would you say would be the most useful in preventing gun violence?
RANNEY: All of them! Seriously, though, each of those recommendations represented long, hard deliberation on the part of our dozens of working group members. There is no single solution to firearm injury. They are all important in different ways.
Rob Borkowski is a PBN contributing writer.