Accuracy of prehospital diagnosis and triage of a Swiss helicopter emergency medical service

J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2012 Sep;73(3):709-15. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e31825c14b7.


Background: Helicopter emergency medical services (HEMSs) have become a standard element of modern prehospital emergency medicine. This study determines the percentage of injured HEMS patients whose injuries were correctly recognized by HEMS physicians.

Methods: A retrospective level III evidence prognostic study using data from the largest Swiss HEMS, REGA (Rettungsflugwacht/Guarde AĆ©rienne), on adult patients with trauma transported to a Level I trauma center (January 2006-December 2007). National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) scores and the Injury Severity Score (ISS) were assessed to identify severely injured patients. Injured body regions diagnosed by REGA physicians were compared with emergency department discharge diagnoses.

Results: Four hundred thirty-three patients were analyzed. Median age was 42.1 years (interquartile range, 25.5-57.9). Three hundred twenty-three (74.6%) were men. Patients were severely injured, with an in-hospital NACA score of 4 or higher in 88.7% of patients and median ISS of 13. REGA physicians correctly recognized injuries to the head in 92.9%, to the femur in 90.5%, and to the tibia/fibula in 83.8% of patients. Injuries to these body regions were overdiagnosed in less than 30%. Abdominal injuries were missed in 56.1%, pelvic injuries in 51.8%, spinal injuries in 40.1%, and chest injuries in 31.2% of patients.

Conclusion: This study shows that patients are adequately triaged by REGA physicians reflected by a NACA score 4 or higher in 88.7% of patients and a median ISS of 13. However, recognition of injured body regions seems to be challenging in the prehospital setting. Prospective studies on specific training of HEMS physicians for recognition of these injuries (e.g., portable ultrasonography, telemedicine) might help in the future.

Level of evidence: Prognostic study, level III.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Ambulances / organization & administration*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Emergency Medical Services / standards*
  • Emergency Medical Services / trends
  • Emergency Medicine / standards
  • Emergency Medicine / trends
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Trauma / diagnosis
  • Multiple Trauma / mortality
  • Multiple Trauma / therapy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Survival Analysis
  • Switzerland
  • Total Quality Management
  • Trauma Centers
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Triage*
  • Wounds and Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Wounds and Injuries / mortality
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy