Study objective: We identify geographic, system, and socioeconomic differences between injured children cared for within and outside of state-designated trauma centers.
Methods: This was a nonconcurrent observational study of a population-based sample from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development Public Patient Discharge Database 1999 to 2005. Patients were 1 to 14 years of age, with International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision (ICD-9) diagnostic codes indicative of trauma. Injury Severity Scores were calculated from ICD-9 codes and categorized into severity categories. Outcomes were hospitalization in a trauma or nontrauma center.
Results: Children with severe injury who resided 0 to 10, 11 to 25, 26 to 50, and more than 50 miles from a trauma center were hospitalized in these centers at rates of 80.0%, 71.2%, 51.4%, and 28.5%, respectively. Children with severe injury who were living in a county with a trauma center were hospitalized in these centers at rates of 78.8%, whereas children living in a county without a trauma center were hospitalized in trauma centers at rates of 39.0%. Children with severe injury and public, private non-health maintenance organization (HMO), and HMO insurance were hospitalized in trauma centers at rates of 77.7%, 68.0%, and 55.4%, respectively. Age, injury severity, insurance type, residence in a county with a trauma center, and proximity to a trauma center were identified as predictors of trauma center utilization by logistic regression.
Conclusion: We demonstrate considerable variation in the utilization pattern of trauma specialty care for children with moderate and severe injuries. Children with HMO and private insurance are cared for less often in trauma centers than those with public insurance, even after adjustment for other variables. Increased distance to a trauma center, as well as lack of trauma center within a county, also decreases trauma center utilization. These results suggest that assessing trauma center utilization patterns in total populations of children may identify opportunities for improved referral policies and practices as part of a larger effort to ensure high-quality trauma care for all children in need.