Undertriage of major trauma patients in the US emergency departments

Am J Emerg Med. 2014 Sep;32(9):997-1004. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2014.05.038. Epub 2014 Jun 2.


Background: There is evidence that regionalized trauma care and appropriate triage of major trauma patients improve patient outcomes. However, the national rate of undertriage and diagnoses of undertriaged patients are unknown.

Methods: We used the 2010 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample to estimate the national rate of undertriage, identify the prevalent diagnoses, and conduct a simulation analysis of the capacity increase required for level I and II trauma centers (TCs) to accommodate undertriaged patients. Undertriaged patients were those with major trauma, injury severity score ≥ 16, who received definitive care at nontrauma centers (NTCs), or level III TCs. The rate of undertriage was calculated with those receiving definitive care at an NTC center or level III center as a fraction of all major trauma patients.

Results: The estimated number of major trauma patient discharges in 2010 was 232448. Level of care was known for 197702 major trauma discharges, and 34.0% were undertriaged in emergency departments (EDs). Elderly patients were at a significantly higher risk of being undertriaged. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) was the most common diagnosis, 40.2% of the undertriaged patient diagnoses. To accommodate all undertriaged patients, level I and II TCs nationally would have to increase their capacity by 51.5%.

Conclusions: We found that more than one-third of US ED major trauma patients were undertriaged, and more than 40% of undertriaged diagnoses were TBIs. A significant capacity increase at level I and II TCs to accommodate these patients appears not feasible.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / standards
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Insurance Coverage / statistics & numerical data
  • Insurance, Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Factors
  • Trauma Centers / standards
  • Trauma Centers / statistics & numerical data
  • Triage / standards
  • Triage / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Wounds and Injuries / mortality
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy
  • Young Adult