Most trauma systems set certain prehospital criteria that, when met, direct that patient to a trauma center. It is now well-established that care of these patients results in improved survival if they are managed at those centers. Unfortunately, undertriage is still a problem, meaning that those patients may not always be taken to a hospital most appropriate to care for their injuries. What is the penalty that your patient pays if this happens?
The University of Toronto performed a nice, prospective study across a large region with both urban and rural areas. Database information was analyzed for all victims of motor vehicle crashes who had a severe injury (ISS>15) or who died. Over 6,000 crash victims’ data were analyzed.
Just under half of the victims (45%) were triaged to a trauma center. Of those who were taken to other hospitals, slightly more than half (58%) were transferred to one within 24 hours, but nearly 5% died in the non-trauma center ED. The overall mortality for severely injured patients who were taken to a nontrauma center was 8.7%. This was a 30% increase in adjusted mortality compared to those taken to a trauma center directly.
Bottom line: Follow the rules! EMS authorities and trauma systems should make it a priority to adopt the CDC protocol (see below) or create trauma guidelines based on them that ensure patients with significant injuries are taken directly to a trauma center. Going to the nearest hospital (if it is not a trauma center) or bending to the patient’s preference is not in their best interest (and may kill them)!
Reference: The mortality benefit of direct trauma center transport in a regional trauma system: a population-based analysis. AAST 2011 Annual Meeting, Paper 50.