Background: Rural environments have consistently been characterized by high injury mortality rates. Although injury prevention efforts might be directed to reduce the frequency or severity of injury in rural environments, it is plausible that interventions directed to improve injury care in the rural settings might also play a significant role in reducing mortality. To test this hypothesis, we set out to examine the relationship between rurality and the setting in which patient death was most likely to occur.
Methods: This is a population-based retrospective cohort study evaluating all trauma deaths occurring in the province of Ontario, Canada, over the interval 2002 to 2003. Patient cohorts were defined by their potential to access trauma center care using two different approaches, rurality and timely access to trauma center care.
Results: There were 3,486 deaths over the study interval, yielding an overall injury mortality rate of 14.6 per 100,000 person-years. Overall, more than half of deaths occurred before reaching an emergency department (ED). Prehospital deaths were twice as likely in the most rural locations and in those with limited access to timely trauma center care. However, among patients surviving long enough to reach hospital, there was a threefold increase in the risk of ED death among those injured in a region with limited access to trauma center care.
Conclusions: We demonstrate that a significant proportion of deaths occur in rural EDs. This study provides new insights into rural trauma deaths and suggests the potential value of targeted interventions at the policy and provider level to improve the delivery of preliminary trauma care in rural environments.