Category Archives: Trauma Systems

Are State Trauma Systems Cost-Effective?

Every state in the US now has a formal trauma system. Several studies are available that document the advantages of these systems in terms of outcomes and survival. Trauma professionals get this. But the governmental agencies and legislators who help create, fund, and maintain them tend to focus on cost as well.

Arkansas was the last state in the union to implement a trauma system. A study in press from the University of Arkansas details their experience. They examined the impact of the new system on mortality, patient care, and attempted to calculate a return on investment from the taxpayers in an effort to show the added value.

The study was commissioned by the Arkansas Department of Health and carried out by the state Trauma Advisory Council. It was led by out of state investigators in an effort to maintain impartiality. A comprehensive review of records was performed by a panel of 5 surgeons, 1 emergency physician, 2 trauma program managers, 1 ground and 1 flight paramedic. Preventable and potentially preventable deaths were identified and analyzed in depth. Value of life lost was calculated by using a conservative $100,000 per year lost. A total of 290 charts were reviewed pre-system, and 382 post-trauma system implementation using proportional sampling of about 2500 trauma deaths in one year.

Here are the factoids:

  • A significantly higher percentage of patients were triaged to Level I trauma centers after the system was implemented
  • Preventable mortality was decreased from 30% to 14% (!!)
  • This means that 79 extra lives were saved due to implementation of the trauma system
  • Non-preventable deaths with opportunity for improvement remained constant at about 55%
  • Non-preventable deaths without opportunity for improvement increased from 16% to 38% (!)
  • Using the most conservative VLL calculation, this equates to $2.4M in savings per life saved
  • This adds up to $186M in savings to the taxpayers of Arkansas, a 9-fold return on their investment of $20M in the trauma system. 

Bottom line: Wow! This nicely done studies gives us excellent insight into the hows and whys of the value of an organized state trauma system. It is likely that the triage system directed more patients to the most appropriate level of care, leading to fewer preventable deaths. And it enticed hospitals to up their game and make the move toward formal trauma center designation. This improved education and training at those centers, leading to better patient care.

There is a wealth of information in this study, and I recommend that everyone with an interest in or are already participating in their state trauma system read it in its entirety. Hospitals that are reluctant to join or are lagging in meeting criteria need to recognize that they are not serving their communities as well as they think. And legislators must realize that the financial impact of even a small investment has real and significant consequences to their constituents.

Related posts:

Reference: Does the Institution of a Statewide Trauma
System Reduce Preventable Mortality and Yield
a Positive Return on Investment for Taxpayers? JACS in press, 2017.

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EAST 2017 #9: Geographic Location and Fatal Car Crashes

Trauma resources (centers and helicopter services) are not geographically evenly distributed across the US. The East and West coasts are saturated with resources, maybe overly so. At the other extreme, some northern states (Alaska and the north central US) have very few trauma resources, and injured patients may have to travel several hundreds of miles to get definitive trauma care.

The group at the University of Pittsburgh looked at trauma resource distribution across the state of Pennsylvania, and matched that with geographical data from fatal car crashes over a two  year period. They used some special statistical tools to analyze this type of data, and reported their findings in a format that will be unfamiliar to many: fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

Here are the factoids:

  • 863 fatal crashes occurred during the study period, killing 884 people
  • The median fatality rate for the state was .187 per 100 million VMT
  • Fatality hotspots became very apparent in areas farther from trauma system resources (TSR) (see map below, dark areas are bad)
  • The fatality rate increased significantly by 0.01 per 100 million VMT for each mile farther away from any TSR.
  • If just 2 helicopters had been relocated from trauma centers to high fatality regions, the overall fatality rate could have been reduced by 12%, in theory

Bottom line: This novel way of looking at injury data confirms what we all knew or suspected: injuries occurring farther away from trauma resources may lead to higher mortality and disability. And knowledge is power. If we can see it, we can do something about it. This type of analysis should be done on regional, state, and national levels to help us better serve our patients.

Questions and comments for the authors/presenters:

  1. Be able to describe your statistics simply
  2. How did you deal with data from the border areas of the state? Did you include trauma resources from adjacent states in your analysis?
  3. You mention “county-level” factors in adjusting mortality rates for distance. What were these?
  4. This is a novel way of approaching system planning. Nice job!

Click here to go the the EAST 2017 page to see comments on other abstracts.

Related post:

Reference: Distance matters: effect of geographic trauma system resource organization on fatal motor vehicle collisions. Paper #3, EAST 2017.

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How Many Trauma Centers Should There Be?

Trauma centers seem to be popping up all over the US. Many metropolitan area have literally scores of centers at various levels. And yet there are swaths across this country where you won’t find a single Level I, and only a few Level IIs. In most states, there is little guidance from the designating authority regarding whether a new trauma center is feasible or even needed. The American College of Surgeons (ACS) has given little guidance over the years, except for a white paper in 2015 that essentially said that it is up to the designating authorities to determine this.

Last August, the ACS organized a consensus conference to try to develop an objective method for figuring out when enough is enough. There was unanimous support for developing a tool that would encourage designation to meet the needs of the trauma patient, not the financial needs of a hospital or hospital system. This Needs-Based Assessment of Trauma Systems (NBATS) tool looks at 6 factors, some of which take a little calculation to complete. A point score is arrived at that predicts the additional number of trauma centers that may be needed. Currently, this tool is in draft form and is in the process of being optimized.

Click here to download the draft document.

So far, this has been a theoretical exercise. But a group at Stanford decided to test the tool on the entire state of California. They used a variety of data sources to compile the needed numbers, and did some complicated spatial analyses of transport times to accurately calculate NBATS scores.

Here are the factoids:

  • 74 trauma centers were identified in the state – 15 Level I, 37 Level II, 14 Level III, and 8 Level IV
  • The state was broken down into 30 Local Emergency Medical Service Agency trauma service regions
  • Only 4 of the 30 regions had scores suggestion that they had enough trauma centers
  • The tool suggested that 9 regions needed 1 more trauma center, 13 would require 2 more, and 4 would require 3 more
  • The model also suggested that 3 regions already had more than needed

Bottom line: There is already literature showing that adding additional (too many?) trauma centers to a region can have a negative impact on patient volumes and resource availability at Level I and II centers. This tool may allow state trauma systems to more objectively determine exactly where more centers are justified, enabling them to rise above the usual political battles (maybe). Unfortunately, the tool does not take available surgical resources in the region (trauma surgeons, neurosurgeons,  orthopedic surgeons) into account, or provide guidance on which levels of new centers should be developed. But it’s a good start to help solve a sticky problem.

Reference: ACS needs based assessment of trauma systems (NBATS) tool: California example. AAST 2016, Paper #24.

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