Patients who are taken to a level 2 trauma center after suffering serious injury are significantly more likely to die than comparable patients treated at a major level 1 trauma center, according to researchers in the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Writing in the October issue of Annals of Surgery, the Keck School team compared outcomes of more than 12,250 patients with critical injuries who were admitted to level 1 or level 2 trauma centers across the nation.
The team found that patients in level 1 trauma centers were nearly 20 percent less likely to die than those in level II centers.
A level 1 facility is a regional academic trauma center and must meet much stricter criteria than a level 2 center.
The requirements include a general surgery residency program, research in trauma, a cardiac surgery program and microvascular and replantation surgery.
For 24 hours a day, the center must have a dedicated operating room, surgical personnel and a surgical intensive care unit physician.
The designation also requires a surgically directed and staffed ICU service, in-house computed tomography scan technician, magnetic resonance imaging, acute hemodialysis, a minimum annual volume of patients and extramural trauma educational activities.
The research team analyzed data from the National Trauma Data Bank, which is maintained by the Committee on Trauma of the American College of Surgeons and tracks information on types of injuries and outcomes at trauma centers nationwide.
Patients in the study had major injuries, such as trauma to the heart, major vessels or liver, complex pelvis fractures or quadriplegia.
The researchers took into account such factors as patient age, gender, mechanism of injury, injury severity and blood pressure on admission, as well as whether hospitals had large or small numbers of patient admissions.
In all, more than 25 percent of patients who entered level 1 facilities died of their injuries, compared to more than 29 percent of patients at level 2 facilities.
“This difference was statistically highly significant,” said Demetrios Demetriades, study author and chief of the Keck School department of surgery’s division of trauma and critical care and LAC+USC Medical Center’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit.
“We also found that patients at level 1 facilities had significantly better functional outcomes at discharge than those at level 2 facilities,” Demetriades said.
About 20 percent of patients discharged from level 1 facilities were severely disabled, significantly less than the nearly 34 percent who were discharged from level 2 facilities with a severe disability, he added.
Currently, trauma patients are transferred to the nearest trauma facility, regardless of its level of designation. Paramedics do not make any distinction between level 1 or 2 facilities when transferring patients.
Authors of the study conclude that these findings may influence the way trauma systems and centers are planned and organized within regions, as well as how trauma patients are triaged.
Trauma is the leading cause of death in people under age 40. Experts estimate that the national annual cost for the care of trauma victims exceeds $200 billion.
Los Angeles County currently has four level 1 facilities and nine level 2 facilities.