Background: Since California lacks a statewide trauma system, there are no uniform interfacility pediatric trauma transfer guidelines across local emergency medical services (EMS) agencies in California. This may result in delays in obtaining optimal care for injured children.
Objectives: This study sought to understand patterns of pediatric trauma patient transfers to the study trauma center as a first step in assessing the quality and efficiency of pediatric transfer within the current trauma system model. Outcome measures included clinical and demographic characteristics, distances traveled, and centers bypassed. The hypothesis was that transferred patients would be more severely injured than directly admitted patients, primary catchment transfers would be few, and out-of-catchment transfers would come from hospitals in close geographic proximity to the study center.
Methods: This was a retrospective observational analysis of trauma patients ≤ 18 years of age in the institutional trauma database (2000–2007). All patients with a trauma International Classification of Diseases, 9th revision (ICD-9) code and trauma mechanism who were identified as a trauma patient by EMS or emergency physicians were recorded in the trauma database, including those patients who were discharged home. Trauma patients brought directly to the emergency department (ED) and patients transferred from other facilities to the center were compared. A geographic information system (GIS) was used to calculate the straight-line distances from the referring hospitals to the study center and to all closer centers potentially capable of accepting interfacility pediatric trauma transfers.
Results: Of 2,798 total subjects, 16.2% were transferred from other facilities within California; 69.8% of transfers were from the catchment area, with 23.0% transferred from facilities ≤ 10 miles from the center. This transfer pattern was positively associated with private insurance (risk ratio [RR] = 2.05; p < 0.001) and negatively associated with age 15–18 years (RR = 0.23; p = 0.01) and Injury Severity Score (ISS) > 18 (RR = 0.26; p < 0.01). The out-of-catchment transfers accounted for 30.2% of the patients, and 75.9% of these noncatchment transfers were in closer proximity to another facility potentially capable of accepting pediatric interfacility transfers. The overall median straight-line distance from noncatchment referring hospitals to the study center was 61.2 miles (IQR = 19.0–136.4), compared to 33.6 miles (IQR = 13.9–61.5) to the closest center. Transfer patients were more severely injured than directly admitted patients (p < 0.001). Out-of-catchment transfers were older than catchment patients (p < 0.001); ISS > 18 (RR = 2.06; p < 0.001) and age 15–18 (RR = 1.28; p < 0.001) were predictive of out-of-catchment patients bypassing other pediatric-capable centers. Finally, 23.7% of pediatric trauma transfer requests to the study institution were denied due to lack of bed capacity.
Conclusions: From the perspective an adult Level I trauma center with a certified pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), delays in definitive pediatric trauma care appear to be present secondary to initial transport to nontrauma community hospitals within close proximity of a trauma hospital, long transfer distances to accepting facilities, and lack of capacity at the study center. Given the absence of uniform trauma triage and transfer guidelines across state EMS systems, there appears to be a role for quality monitoring and improvement of the current interfacility pediatric trauma transfer system, including defined triage, transfer, and data collection protocols.