Background: Trauma systems are designed to bring the injured patient to definitive care in the shortest practical time. This depends on prehospital destination criteria (primary triage) and interfacility transfer guidelines (secondary triage). Although primary undertriage is associated with increased costs and worse outcomes for selected injuries, secondary overtriage can overwhelm system resources and delay definitive care. The purpose of this study was to determine the incidence of secondary overtriage in a region without a formal trauma system.
Study design: Retrospective cohort study of trauma registry data at an American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma-verified Level I trauma center and regional referral center. Secondary overtriage was defined as patients transferred from another hospital emergency department to our trauma receiving unit who had an injury severity score < 10, did not require an operation, and who were discharged to home within 48 hours of admission.
Results: Data on 9,064 patients were reviewed; 6,875 (76%) arrived directly from the scene and 2,189 (24%) were transferred. Although the transferred group was more severely injured, the majority (64%) had minor injuries and 824 (39%) met secondary overtriage criteria. The degree of secondary overtriage and injury pattern varied with respect to referring facility. Peak admission day and times for overtriage patients coincided with scene admissions trauma receiving unit closure events. Patient payor mix and facility cost and reimbursement profiles did not differ between scene and transfer overtriage patients.
Conclusions: A substantial proportion of transferred trauma patients require only brief diagnostic or observational care. Excessive overtriage calls for development of a regional inclusive trauma system with established primary and secondary triage guidelines to improve access to care and trauma system efficiency.