The invisible trauma patient: emergency department discharges

J Trauma. 2005 Apr;58(4):675-83; discussion 683-5. doi: 10.1097/01.ta.0000159244.24884.9b.


Background: As the malpractice and financial environment has changed, injured patients evaluated by the trauma team and discharged from the emergency department (ED) are now commonplace. The evaluation, care, and disposition of this population has become a significant workload component but is not reported to accrediting organizations and is relatively invisible to hospital administrators. Our objective was to quantify and begin to qualify the evolving picture of the trauma ED discharge population as a work component of trauma service function in an urban, Level I trauma center with an aeromedical program.

Methods: Trauma registry (contacts, mechanism, transport, injuries, and disposition) and hospital databases (ED closure, occupancy rates) were queried for a 5-year period (1999-2003). Trend analysis provided statistical comparisons for questions of interest.

Results: During the 5-year study period, the total number of trauma contacts rose by 18.1% (2,220 in 1999 vs. 2,622 in 2003; trend p < 0.05). This increase in total contacts was not a manifestation of an increase in admissions (1,672 in 1999 vs. 1,544 in 2003) but rather a reflection of a marked increase in patients seen primarily by the trauma team and discharged from the ED (473 in 1999 vs. 1,000 in 2003; trend p < 0.05). These ED discharge patients were increasingly transported by helicopter (12.3% in 1999 vs. 29.2% in 2003; trend p < 0.05) and less frequently from urban areas (57.1% in 1999 vs. 48.1% in 2003; trend p < 0.05) over the course of the study period. Average injury severity of this group increased over the study period (Injury Severity Score of 2.7 +/- 0.1 in 1999 vs. 3.3 +/- 0.1 in 2003; trend p < 0.05). ED length of stay for this group increased 19.8% over the study period (trend p < 0.05), averaging nearly 5 hours in 2003.

Conclusion: The total number, relative percentage, and injury severity of patients evaluated by the trauma team and discharged from the ED has significantly increased over the last 5 years, representing nearly 5,000 patient care hours in 2003. Systems to care for these patients in a cost- and resource-efficient fashion should be put in place. The impact of this growing population of patients on the workload of the trauma center should be recognized by accrediting agencies, hospital administration, and Emergency Medical Services.

MeSH terms

  • Abbreviated Injury Scale
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Air Ambulances / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Hospitals, University / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, Urban / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Discharge
  • Philadelphia / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Trauma Centers / economics
  • Trauma Centers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Triage / statistics & numerical data
  • Workload / economics
  • Workload / statistics & numerical data*
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology