Helicopter air ambulance (HAA) of pediatric trauma patients is a life-saving intervention. Triage remains a challenge for both scene transport and interhospital transfer of injured children. We aimed to understand whether overtriage or undertriage was a feature of scene or interhospital transfer and how in or out of state transfers affected these rates.Methods
Children (<18 years) who underwent trauma activation at a level I trauma center between 2011 and 2013 were identified and reviewed. Patients transported by HAA were compared with those transported by ground ambulance (GA).Results
Of 399 pediatric patients (median age, 10.4 years; range, 0.1–17 years; 264 male [66%]), 71 (18%) were transported by HAA. Seventy-two percent of HAA patients went to the intensive care unit or the operating room from the trauma bay or suffered in-hospital mortality (vs 42% GA, P < 0.001). More patients were overtriaged (HAA with injury severity score [ISS] of <15) from interhospital transfers than from the scene (25% vs 3%, P = 0.002). Undertriage (GA with ISS >15) was acceptable at 5% from the scene and 14% from interhospital transfers (P = 0.08). Overtriage of patients with ISS less than 15 to HAA was significantly lower from in-state hospitals (22%) than out-of-state hospitals (45%) (P = 0.02). Undertriage of patients with ISS greater than 15 to GA was also lower from in-state hospitals (20%) versus out-of-state hospitals (38%) (P = 0.03).Conclusions
Triage of pediatric trauma patients to HAA remains difficult. There remains potential for improvement, particularly as regards interhospital HAA overtriage, but well developed transfer protocols (such in-state protocols) may help.