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Minimally Injured People Sent to Trauma Centers Costs Hundreds of Millions Per Year

Study finds one-third of patients who don’t need trauma centers are sent there anyway (September 9)

During a 3-year period in seven metropolitan areas in the western U.S., the emergency medical services (EMS) system sent more than 85,000 injured patients to major trauma hospitals who didn’t need to go there — costing the health care system more than $130 million per year, according to a new study published in Health Affairs.

Researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University gathered data from 94 EMS agencies in seven metropolitan areas from January 2006 through December 2008.

“What our study shows is there are huge cost implications in how EMS systems work to get injured patients to the appropriate hospitals,” said lead author Craig Newgard, MD. “And it shows how very early decisions in the process of health care — even prior to a patient arriving at the hospital — can lead to much higher costs downstream for our health care system.”

The researchers gathered data from EMS agencies in the metropolitan areas of Portland/Vancouver; Sacramento, Calif.; Santa Clara, Calif.; and Salt Lake City, Utah. They also gathered data from King County (Seattle) in Washington; San Francisco, Calif.; and Denver County in Colorado.

The data showed that more than 301,000 injured people were transported to hospitals in the seven regions during the study period. About 248,000 of them were “low-risk” patients who, if the EMS national triage guidelines had been followed, should not have been taken to major trauma hospitals. More than a third of those patients — more than 85,000 — were taken to a major trauma hospital.

The results were higher costs to the health care system because the cost of care at trauma hospitals is significantly higher than at non-trauma hospitals. The authors found that the average cost of care for a trauma patient at a Level 1 trauma hospital — the most advanced level — was $5,590 higher than at a non-trauma hospital.

Source: Oregon Health & Science University; September 9, 2013.

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