Level I and II trauma centers are considered resource centers in that they have very robust capabilities in terms of surgical specialties and other services. But no trauma system is complete unless there are a sufficient number of potential feeder centers to ensure that quality trauma care is available outside the usual catchment area of the resource centers.

Level III trauma centers have physician staffed emergency departments, solid orthopedic coverage, and varying degrees of neurosurgical expertise (from none to equivalent to a Level I). Designated Level III centers can frequently keep a variety of patients that would otherwise require transfer.

But what about Level IV centers? They are not required to have any trauma-related surgical specialties or even physicians staffing the ED for designation purposes. The expectation is that nearly all patients will be transferred upstream to a resource trauma center. What is the advantage to pursuing designation if you are still not going to be able to keep patients?

One obvious reason is that injured patients will still be brought to your hospital, especially if it is located in a rural area. But surely there must be other reasons, right? The Penn Medicine group in Lancaster PA examined registry data from the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation over a six year period, focusing on hospitals that became new Level IV centers during that time interval. They looked at demographics, injury severity, mortality, and incidence of surgical intervention.

Here are the factoids:

  • Five hospitals underwent their initial accreditation as a Level IV center during the study period, and about 5000 total patient cases were reviewed during their pre- and post-designation periods
  • There were no differences in patient demographics or injury severity before or after designation
  • The transfer rate remained steady at 63% before and after
  • There was a trend toward decreased mortality (p = 0.09)
  • There was also a trend toward fewer surgical interventions before patient transfer, after designation

Here are some questions for the authors and presenter to consider in advance to help them prepare for audience questions:

  • I presume that the observation of trends and the failure to achieve statistical significance are due to the small sample of centers, correct? Unfortunately, this is not avoidable due to the number of hospitals entering into the system.
  • During your presentation, be sure to show the audience absolute numbers and basic statistics for your findings. Adjusted odds ratios are not as well understood by the average brain.
  • Do you have any suggestions for additional research that would help show a significant mortality advantage, since additional registry data will not be of help?
  • How do you expect that Level IV wannabes or existing Level IV centers will interpret this study?

I’m looking forward to hearing this presentation in person next week!

Reference: Early analysis of Level IV trauma centers within an organized trauma system. EAST 2019, Quick Shot paper #10.

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