The extent to which severely injured patients receive definitive care at trauma centers is determined by the accuracy of prehospital major trauma criteria in predicting severe injuries and by the level of compliance with these triage instructions by prehospital providers. This study was conducted to evaluate the level of compliance with triage criteria in an established trauma system.
The study involved a retrospective analysis of the 1995 Maryland statewide prehospital ambulance data. Prehospital providers in Maryland are instructed to consider transporting patients meeting any of the three nonexclusive major trauma criteria-physiology, injury, and mechanism-to designated trauma centers. Compliance with these criteria was defined as the proportion of patients transported to designated trauma centers among those meeting prehospital triage criteria as documented on the ambulance trip report. Special emphasis was placed on differences in the levels of compliance by age of the trauma patients.
A total of 32,950 transports were analyzed. Patients meeting injury criteria were most likely to be transported to trauma centers (86%), followed by those meeting mechanism criteria (46%), and physiology criteria (34%). When the level of compliance was stratified by age, there was no age difference in the level of compliance for patients meeting injury criteria (90.5% for patients aged 0-54 years vs. 88.7% for patients aged 55+ years; p = 0.197). For older patients meeting physiology criteria only or for those meeting mechanism criteria only, however, compliance was differentially low. For patients meeting physiology criteria only, the compliance was 40.3% for patients aged 0 to 54 years and 23.9% for patients aged 55 years and older (p = 0.0001); for patients meeting mechanism criteria only, compliance was 47.0% for patients aged 0 to 54 years and 39.7% for patients aged 55+ years (p = 0.002).
The majority of patients meeting prehospital major trauma criteria were transported to designated trauma centers. Patients meeting only physiology criteria, however, were much less likely to be transported to trauma centers, and there was a differentially low compliance for elderly trauma patients meeting physiology criteria alone. The causes and consequences of lower compliance with triage instructions for the elderly population deserve further investigation.