Background: Due to the scarcity of specialized resources for pediatric trauma, "regionalization," or a system designed to get "the right child, to the right place, at the right time," is vital to quality pediatric trauma care. In Northern California, four pediatric trauma centers serve 3.9 million children within a geographically diverse area of 113,630 square miles. A significant proportion of children with trauma is initially triaged to nontrauma hospitals and may require subsequent transfer to a specialty center. Trauma transfer patterns to a pediatric trauma center may provide insight into regional primary triage practices. Transfers from hospitals in close proximity to pediatric trauma centers might suggest that some children could have avoided transfer with minimal additional transport time. While pediatric trauma centers are scarce and serve as regional resources, transfers from beyond the regular catchment area of a trauma center could be an indication of clinical need.
Objectives: The objective of this study was to gain an understanding of patterns of pediatric trauma transfer to all pediatric trauma centers within the region as a first step in assessing the efficacy and efficiency of trauma triage. The authors examined three groups of transfer patients: transfers from within the same county as the pediatric trauma center (near transfers), transfers from counties adjacent to the pediatric trauma center (catchment transfers), and transfers from more distant counties (far transfers). The hypothesis was that catchment transfers would form the bulk of transfers, near transfers would compose < 10% of total transfers, and far transfers would be younger and more severely injured than catchment transfers.
Methods: This was a retrospective analysis of institutional trauma registry data of children < 18 years from all pediatric trauma centers in Northern California from 2001 through 2009. Transfers were characterized by the location of the transfer hospital relative to the location of the pediatric trauma center. Characteristics associated with near transfer compared to primary triage to a pediatric trauma center were identified, as well as characteristics associated with far transfer compared to catchment transfer.
Results: A total of 2,852 of 11,952 (23.9%) pediatric trauma patients were transfers. Near transfers comprised 24.5% of cases, catchment transfers were 37.4%, and far transfers were 38.2%. After controlling for demographic, clinical, and geographic factors, younger age, higher Injury Severity Score (ISS), public versus private insurance, and an injury mechanism of "fall" were associated with near transfer rather than direct triage. Older age, higher ISS, and mechanism of "motor vehicle crash" were associated with far rather than catchment transfer.
Conclusions: This analysis of patterns of transfer to all pediatric trauma centers within Northern California gives the most comprehensive population view of pediatric trauma triage to date, to the authors' knowledge. Trauma transfers comprise an important minority of patients cared for at pediatric trauma centers. The number of near transfers documented indicates the potential to improve the primary triage process of patients to pediatric trauma centers. The frequency of far transfers substantiates the well-known shortage of pediatric trauma expertise. Development of regionwide standardized transfer protocols and agreements between hospitals, as well as standardized monitoring of the process and outcomes, could increase efficiency of care.
© 2014 by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.