Effectiveness of prehospital trauma triage guidelines for the identification of major trauma in elderly motor vehicle crash victims

J Emerg Nurs. 2003 Apr;29(2):109-15. doi: 10.1067/men.2003.59.


Introduction: Undertriage of older trauma victims has been a persistent and serious problem. Because of physiologic changes and pre-existing disease, blunt trauma in older persons is often covert. Prehospital trauma triage guidelines developed for use with a general adult population may not be sensitive enough to detect covert injuries in elderly trauma patients. This study examined the sensitivity and specificity of one state's prehospital trauma triage guidelines for adults, with a particular focus on the triage of elderly persons.

Methods: This retrospective study used patient discharge data to examine the sensitivity (a measure of undertriage) and specificity (a measure of overtriage) of the adult prehospital trauma triage guidelines in 3 counties with level I trauma centers. Sensitivity and specificity of young and middle-aged adults was compared with that of older adults.

Results: Undertriage was 8% for young and middle-aged men, 12% for young and middle-aged women, 18% for older men, and 15% for older women. Overtriage was present in all age groups, indicating that many motor vehicle crash victims who were admitted to trauma centers could have been admitted to nontrauma center hospitals.

Discussion: Low sensitivity and specificity of trauma triage guidelines results in undertriage and overtriage. These guidelines should include age as a decision point to avoid placing older persons at risk for undertriage. Although some degree of overtriage is unavoidable without increasing undertriage, efforts should be made to minimize this costly occurrence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Abbreviated Injury Scale
  • Accidents, Traffic*
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged*
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bias
  • Emergency Medical Services / methods*
  • Emergency Medical Services / standards
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Trauma / diagnosis*
  • Multiple Trauma / etiology
  • New Jersey
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic / standards*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Trauma Centers
  • Triage / methods*
  • Triage / standards