Paralysis is an indication for trauma patients to be preferentially triaged by emergency services to designated level I or II trauma centers (TC). We sought to describe triage practices for patients with acute traumatic spinal cord injury (TSCI) and its associated emergency department (ED) outcomes. Adults ages ≥ 18 years with a diagnosis of acute TSCI (International Classification of Diseases-9: 806 and 952) in the 2006-2011 United States Nationwide Emergency Department Sample were included in these analyses. Outcomes assessed include triage to non-trauma centers (NTC), which is referred to as "under-triage," and ED mortality. Of 117,444 adults with TSCI, 33.4% were under-triaged to NTC. Under-triage was more prevalent with increasing age. Among patients under-triaged to NTC, 37.4% had new injury severity score (NISS) >15, representing severe injuries or polytrauma. Among patients with NISS >15, the odds of ED mortality in NTC were four-fold greater compared to level I trauma centers (TC-I) (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 4.06; 95% confidence interval = 1.87-8.79; p < 0.001). In conclusion, under-triage of adults with acute TSCI occurred in at least one-third of the cases. Patients triaged to NTC rather than TC-I experienced higher likelihood of death in the ED even after controlling for personal and injury characteristics. Further research is necessary to elucidate detailed clinical and logistical factors that may be associated with under-triage of acute TSCI, to facilitate interventions aimed at improving patient experience and outcomes.
Keywords: Nationwide Emergency Department Sample; spinal cord injury; triage, trauma center, outcomes.