Tag Archives: prehospital

Trauma Patient Transport By Police, Not EMS

When I was at Penn 25 years ago, I was fascinated to see that police officers were allowed to transport penetrating trauma patients to the hospital. They had no medical training and no specific equipment. They basically tossed the patient into the back seat, drove as fast as possible to a trauma center, and dropped them off. Then they (hopefully) hosed down the inside of the squad car.

Granted, it was fast. But did it benefit the patient? The group now at Penn decided to look at this to see if there was some benefit (survival) to this practice. They retrospectively looked at 5 years of data in the mid-2000’s, thus comparing the results of police transport with reasonably state of the art EMS transport.

They found over 2100 penetrating injury transports during this time frame (!), and roughly a quarter of those (27%) were transported by police. About 71% were gunshots vs 29% stabs. They found the following interesting information:

  • The police transported more badly injured patients (ISS=14) than EMS (ISS=10)
  • About 21% of police transports died, compared to 15% for EMS
  • But when mortality was corrected for the higher ISS transported by police, it was equivalent for the two modes of transport

Although they did not show a survival benefit to this practice, there was certainly no harm done. And in busy urban environments, such a policy could offload some of the workload from busy EMS services.

Bottom line: Certainly this is not a perfect paper. But it does add more fuel to the “stay and play” vs “scoop and run” debate. It seems to lend credence to the concept that, in the field, less is better in penetrating trauma. What really saves these patients is definitive control of bleeding, which neither police nor paramedics can provide. Therefore, whoever gets the patient to the trauma center in the least time wins. And so does the patient.

Related posts:

Reference: Injury-adjusted mortality of patients transported by police following penetrating trauma. Acad Emerg Med 18(1):32-37, 2011.

AAST 2011: Benefit of Transport to a Trauma Center

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)!

Click here to download the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Trauma Triage Protocol. This should be used as a standard!

Reference: The mortality benefit of direct trauma center transport in a regional trauma system: a population-based analysis. AAST 2011 Annual Meeting, Paper 50.

Bystander CPR For People Not In Cardiac Arrest

CPR has increased the survival rate of patients suffering cardiac arrest, and early bystander CPR has been shown to double or triple survival. The sad truth is that CPR is not frequently performed by the general public. The American Heart Association has attempted to simplify CPR to the point that even untrained bystanders can administer chest compressions without a pulse check and without rescue breathing.

Bystander CPR

But what happens if that well-intentioned bystander starts CPR in someone who has not arrested? How often does this happen? Can the patient be injured?

The Medical College of Wisconsin reviewed the charts of all patients who received bystander CPR in Milwaukee County over a six year period. There were 672 incidents of bystander CPR. Of those cases, 77 (12%) were not in arrest when assessed by EMS personnel, and the researchers focused on those patients.

EMS response time averaged 5 minutes, and was greater than 10 minutes in only 2 cases. Average patient age was 43(!). The male/female ratio was just about 50:50, and the majority of the incidents took place in the home or residence.

Hospital records were available for further analysis in 72 of the patients. A quarter were sent home, a quarter admitted to a ward bed, and half were admitted to an ICU. Only 12 (17%) had a cardiac-related discharge diagnosis. The next most common discharge diagnoses were near-drowning, respiratory failure and drug overdose. Younger patients (<19) were usually near-drowning victims, and older patients (>54) were most commonly diagnosed with syncope. Five patients did not survive. Only one CPR injury was identified, which was charted as rhabdomyolysis “secondary to having received CPR” (a weak injury diagnosis, in my opinion).

Bottom line: The potential benefit of bystander CPR outweighs the risk of injury or performing it on a victim who is not in arrest. This study shows that, although these patients may not need CPR, they are generally very ill. Given the rapid EMS response times and the younger average age of the victims, no real injuries occurred. The new American Heart Association recommendations are beneficial and should be distributed widely.

Reference: The frequency and consequences of cardiopulmonary resuscitation performed by bystanders on patients who are not in cardiac arrest. Prehosp Emerg Care 15:282-287, 2011.

AAST 2011: Patients Evaluated But Not Transported By EMS

Injured patients transported to the ED are just the tip of the iceberg. There are some patients who are evaluated by EMS, either at the scene or in their home, but never transported. These patients do not appear in any trauma registry and little information is known about how they do after their evaluation.

Stanford University reviewed county data and found 5,865 patients out of 69,000 who were evaluated by EMS but not transported (3 counties, 3 years of data). Over a quarter (29%) presented to an ED later and 92 were admitted (2% of the total). By linking available vital statistics data, at least 7 were found to have died.

Bottom line: Patients who are evaluated by EMS but ultimately not transported to a hospital may have unsuspected problems. The mortality is very low (0.14%) but these may represent preventable deaths. It is not practical to force everyone to go to the ED. However, it should be cost-effective to at least make a followup call the next day on these select patients to see if they should be urged to get further evaluation in the ED.

Reference: The forgotten trauma patient: outcomes for injured patients evaluated by EMS but not transported. AAST 2011 Annual Meeting, Oral Paper 46.

Is The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) Getting Too Old?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the leading causes of death from trauma worldwide. The assessment of TBI was revolutionized in 1976 when the GCS scale was first introduced. Shortly after its introduction, it was found to be predictive of outcome after brain injury. But it does have some drawbacks: it is somewhat complicated, and interrater reliability is low.

Interestingly, a number of studies have shown that the motor component of GCS is nearly as accurate as the full score in predicting survival. Thus, the Simplified Motor Score (SMS) was introduced as a possible substitute for the GCS in 2007. It was found to be equivalent for predicting survival when applied in the ED.

SMS scoring:

  • Obeys commands = 2
  • Localizes pain = 1
  • Withdraws (or less) to pain = 0

So can this scale be validated in the field when applied by prehospital providers?

Nearly 10 years of data (almost 20,000 patients) from the Denver Health trauma registry was analyzed to attempt to validate SMS when used by EMS. Although the statistics were not perfect, they found that GCS and SMS were equivalent for predicting the presence of a brain injury, need for emergency intubation, need for neurosurgical intervention, and death. Interestingly, they found that both SMS and GCS were not quite as good at predicting overall outcomes as previously thought.

Bottom line: The simplified motor score is a simple system that has now been shown to be as accurate as GCS in predicting severity and outcome from head injury. To be clear, though, neither is a perfect system. They must still be combined with clinical and radiographic assessments to achieve the best accuracy. But SMS can and should be used both in-hospital and prehospital to get a quick assessment, and may help determine early intervention and need for activating the trauma team.


  • Assessment of coma and impaired consciousness: a practical scale. Lancet 2:81-84, 1976.
  • Assessment and prognosis of coma after head injury. Acta Neurochir (Wien) 34:45-55, 1976.
  • Validation of the simplified motor score in the out-of-hospital setting for the prediction of outcomes after traumatic brain injury. Ann Emerg Med, in press, Aug 2011.