Trauma triage in the emergency departments of nontrauma centers: An analysis of individual physician caseload on triage patterns

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Treatment at Level I/II trauma centers improves outcomes for patients with severe injuries. Little is known about the role of physicians’ clinical judgment in triage at outlying hospitals. We assessed the association between physician caseload, case mix, and the triage of trauma patients presenting to nontrauma centers.

METHODS

A retrospective cohort analysis of patients evaluated between January 1, 2007, and December 31, 2010, by emergency physicians working in eight community hospitals in western Pennsylvania. We linked billing records to hospital charts, summarized physicians’ caseloads, and calculated rates of undertriage (proportion of patients with moderate-to-severe injuries not transferred to a trauma center), and overtriage (proportion of patients transferred with a minor injury). We measured the correlation between physician characteristics, caseload, and rates of triage.

RESULTS

Of 50 eligible physicians, 29 (58%) participated in the study. Physicians had a mean (SD) of 16.8 (10.1) years of postresidency clinical experience; 21 (72%) were board certified in emergency medicine. They evaluated a median of 2,423 patients per year, of whom 148 (6%) were trauma patients and 3 (0.1%) had moderate-to-severe injuries. The median undertriage rate was 80%; the median overtriage rate was 91%. Physicians’ caseload of patients with moderate-to-severe injuries was inversely associated with rates of undertriage (correlation coefficient, −0.42; p = 0.03). Compared with physicians in the lowest quartile, those in the highest quartile undertriaged 31% fewer patients.

CONCLUSION

Emergency physicians working in nontrauma centers rarely encounter patients with moderate-to-severe injuries. Caseload was strongly associated with compliance with American College of Surgeons’ Committee on Trauma guidelines.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE

Therapeutic/care management, level IV.

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