Objective: To evaluate the management of severe trauma in intensive care, high dependency and general surgical wards of Victorian hospitals.
Design: Retrospective case review by multidisciplinary committees.
Subjects: The first 256 people who died from road traffic accidents who were alive on the arrival of emergency services between 1 July 1992 and 30 June 1994.
Main outcome measures: (1) Severity of injury according to clinical diagnosis, autopsy findings and recognised trauma-scoring methods; (2) errors in management, identified as contributing or not contributing to the cause of death, and categorised as "management", "system", "diagnostic" or "technique" errors.
Results: Most patients (61%) were admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU), and 19.5% were admitted to high dependency or general surgical wards. Of 2187 errors of care identified, 11.8% occurred in ICU and 6.7% in wards, with the remainder occurring during the earlier phases of care. Most errors were classified as management errors (82% of ICU errors and 88% of ward errors). Fifty-two per cent of ICU errors and 71% of ward errors were judged to contribute to the patient's death.
Conclusions: A significant number of errors of trauma management occur in the intensive care and general surgical ward. Improvement in late trauma care may reduce the number of preventable trauma deaths.