If you receive a major traumatic injury such as from a motor vehicle crash, a knife or gun wound or a head injury, your chances of survival improve greatly if you receive definitive treatment in the first 60 minutes. The U.S. military learned this “Golden Hour” concept during the Vietnam War when physicians were able to reduce death rates to less than 2 percent.
Dr. Donald Trunkey, an academic trauma surgeon, calls this the Three R Rule: “Getting the right patient to the right place at the right time.” This means that more severely injured patients may be taken past a hospital with an emergency department to reach a trauma center.
What is a Trauma Center?
Trauma centers have the specially trained medical personnel along with advanced diagnostic and treatment equipment needed to treat people with the most severe injuries. Trauma centers are classified by the level of care they provide: Level IV (lowest) to Level I (highest). Both Level I and Level II trauma centers offer the immediate availability of trauma surgeons, anesthesiologists, physician specialists, nurses, and resuscitation equipment that are needed to treat critically injured patients. Level I centers treat a higher number of patients and must participate in teaching and research.
What Type of Patients Are Treated?
An emergency room treats more common illnesses and injuries such as a broken bone, back pain, cuts and concussions. A trauma center sees patients who have multiple fractures, possible paralysis, punctured lungs, stabbing or gunshot wounds and brain injuries.
Nearly 60 percent of patients treated in a trauma center received their injuries in a motor vehicle accident. Falls account for 13 percent of the injuries, while assaults (gunshots or stabbings) make up another 12 percent.
Despite the advances in trauma care, traumatic injuries remains the third leading cause of death in the United States and is a leading cause of death for those between the ages of 1 and 44. However, patients with severe injuries who are treated within the first hour at a Level I trauma center have a 25 percent lower risk of death.
Twenty-four hours a day, as many as 16 medical staff specialties must be available within the hospital or on-call and able to reach the hospital within a certain timeframe. These specialties may include:
- Trauma surgery
- Orthopedic surgery
- Thoracic (chest) surgery
- Cardiac surgery
- Critical care medicine
These physicians must complete trauma education and other continuing education programs. Nurses and other health care personnel in a trauma center also receive advanced training to care for the most critically injured patients.
Hospitals with trauma center designations also offer advanced surgical capabilities and critical care units that provide constant treatment and monitoring of severely injured patients.
The trauma team, including paramedics and emergency medical technicians, specially trained doctors and nurses, work together to ensure that severely injured patients quickly receive the specialized care they need.
About the Palm Beach County Trauma System
The Health Care District of Palm Beach County oversees the Palm Beach County Trauma System and operates two Trauma Hawk air ambulances. Learn more at the Health Care District of Palm Beach County website.