The epidemiology of emergency department thoracotomy in a statewide trauma system: Does center volume matter?

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The relationship between high volume and improved outcomes has been described for a host of elective high-impact, low-frequency procedures, but there are little data to support such a relationship in high-impact low-frequency procedures in trauma. Using emergency department thoracotomy (EDT) as a model, we hypothesized that patients presenting to centers with higher institutional volumes of EDT would have improved survival referent to those presenting to lower volume institutions.


We queried the Pennsylvania Trauma Outcomes Study registry from 2007 to 2015 for all EDTs performed at Level I and II centers identified by ICD-9 procedure codes and a location stamp indicating the emergency department. We examined patient-level risk factors for survival in univariate regression and multivariable regression models. Centers were divided into tertiles of mean annual EDT volume, and the association between mean annual EDT volume and patient survival was examined using logistic regression after controlling for patient factors.


1,399 EDTs were performed at 28 centers. Overall survival was 6.8%. After controlling for patient age, mechanism of injury, signs of life, and injury severity, patients presenting to centers in the highest tertile of volume had significantly higher odds of survival compared with patients presenting to centers in the lowest tertile of volume (OR 4.56, 95% CI 1.43–14.50).


Patients presenting to centers with higher mean annual volume of EDTs have improved survival compared with those presenting to institutions with lower mean annual EDT volume. Efforts to understand the etiology of this finding may lead to interventions to improve outcomes at lower-volume centers.


Prognostic/Epidemiological, level III; Therapeutic, level IV.

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