The development of trauma systems and trauma centers has had a major impact on the fate of the critically injured patient. However, some have suggested that care may be compromised if too many trauma centers are designated for a given area. As of 1987, the state of Missouri had designated six adult trauma centers, two Level I and four Level II, for the metropolitan Kansas City, Mo, area, serving a population of approximately 1 million people. To determine whether care was comparable between the Level I and II centers, we conducted a concurrent evaluation of the fate of patients with a sentinel injury, hepatic trauma, over a 6-year period (1987-1992) who were treated at these six trauma centers.
All patients during the 6-year study period who suffered liver trauma and who survived long enough to be evaluated by computerized tomography or celiotomy were entered into the study. Patients with central nervous system trauma were excluded from analysis. Information concerning mechanism of injury, RTS, Injury Severity Score (ISS), presence of shock, liver injury scoring, mode of treatment, mortality, and length of stay were recorded on abstract forms for analysis. Care was evaluated by mortality, time to the operating room (OR), and intensive care unit (ICU) and hospital length of stay.
Over the 6-year period 300 patients with non-central nervous system liver trauma were seen. Level I centers cared for 195 patients and Level II centers cared for 105. There was no difference in mean ISS or ISS > 25 between Level I and II centers. Fifty-five (28%) patients arrived in shock at Level I centers and 24 (23%) at Level II centers. Forty-eight patients (16%) died. Thirty-two (16%) died at Level I centers, and 16 (15%) died at Level II centers. Twenty of 55 patients (36%) in shock died at Level I centers, and 11 of 24 (46%) died at Level II centers (p = 0.428). Forty-three patients (22%) had liver scaling scores of IV-VI at Level I centers, and 10 (10%) had similar scores at Level II centers (p < 0.01). With liver scores IV-VI, 22 of 43 (51%) died at Level I centers and 10 of 14 (71%) died at Level II centers (p = 0.184). There was no difference in mean time or in delays beyond 1 hour to the OR for those patients in shock between Level I and II centers. There was a longer ICU stay at Level II centers (5.0 +/- 8.3 vs. 2.8 +/- 8.4 days, p = 0.04). This difference was confined to penetrating injuries. There was no difference in hospital length of stay.
In a metropolitan trauma system, when Level I and II centers were compared for their ability to care for victims of hepatic trauma, there was no discernible difference in care rendered with respect to severity of injury, mortality, delays to the OR, or hospital length of stay. It was observed that more severe liver injuries were seen at Level I centers, but this did not seem to significantly affect care at Level II centers. There was a longer ICU stay observed at Level II centers owing to penetrating injuries, possibly because there were fewer penetrating injuries treated at these facilities. Although the bulk of patients were seen at Level I centers, care throughout the system was equivalent.