Secondary Undertriage of Pediatric Trauma Patients Across the United States Emergency Departments

J Surg Res. 2024 Jan:293:37-45. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2023.07.054. Epub 2023 Sep 11.


Introduction: The American College of Surgeons has developed evidence-based guidelines to triage the care of severely injured children to Level 1 and 2 trauma centers. Undertriage is the treatment of patients at facilities not equipped to treat the patient's injuries appropriately. We sought to evaluate the association between patient and hospital characteristics and secondary undertriage in children after major trauma.

Methods: We performed a retrospective cohort study using the 2019 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample. Patients aged less than 18 y were included if they presented to a Level 3 or nontrauma center (NTC) and were diagnosed with a traumatic injury with an injury severity score >15 based on International Classification of Diseases 10 codes. Our primary outcome was secondary undertriage, defined as inpatient admission to a Level 3 or NTC. We developed generalized linear models with inverse-probability survey weighting to determine the association between patient and hospital characteristics and the primary outcome.

Results: Of 6572 weighted patients, 982 (15%) were undertriaged. Undertriage was significantly associated with older age (13 versus 7, P value < 0.001), metropolitan location (86% versus 68%, P < 0.001), and major abdominal injuries (19% versus 11%, P = 0.011). After multivariable adjustment, secondary undertriage was significantly associated with patients aged 6-10 y (adjusted odds ratio [aOR]: 2.47, P = 0.002) compared to patients aged 15-17 y, penetrating injury (aOR: 1.70, P = 0.011), major chest injury (aOR: 2.10, P = 0.014), and presentation at a teaching hospital (aOR: 5.66, P < 0.001).

Conclusions: After major trauma, a significant proportion of children are secondarily undertriaged at teaching NTCs. Level 1 and 2 trauma centers must partner with lower-level trauma centers to ensure children receive equitable care.

Keywords: Pediatric trauma; Secondary triage; Trauma center; Trauma systems; Triage; Undertriage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Inpatients
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Trauma Centers
  • Triage
  • United States
  • Wounds and Injuries* / diagnosis
  • Wounds and Injuries* / therapy