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What Injuries Are Treated at a Trauma Center?

Most of us have either seen a sign on the interstate or near a medical facility warning that it’s a trauma center or have either personally known or heard about someone who needed to be transferred to one of these facilities at some point.

While many of us may have some idea as to what the differences between these types of hospitals may be, most don’t realize that there are multiple levels of care medical centers like these offer, depending on their designation.

Below, we’ll give you an overview of these facilities and what injuries are treated at a trauma center compared to your standard emergency room.

Understanding What Trauma Care Facilities Are

According to Penn Medicine, trauma centers exist to treat individuals who’ve suffered life-threatening injuries or those who are at risk of losing their limbs. If you’re wondering what injuries necessitate treatment at a medical facility like this, it comes down to patients with these injuries requiring more comprehensive, multi-disciplinary medical treatment than other patients.

The medical school points out that employees of trauma centers will have undergone additional training and have access to more resources than your standard, non-trauma hospital, which is particularly critical when a patient’s survivability is on the line.

What Types of Injuries Trauma Centers Treat

In general, trauma centers treat critically wounded patients. This means they may treat patients with varying conditions, including such as:

  • Blunt force trauma, including head or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) or internal organ damage
  • Serious burn injuries, including third or fourth-degree burns
  • Stab or gunshot wounds
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Crush or compression injuries, especially if it may lead to an amputation

How Do These Patients Suffer Their Traumatic Injuries?

As you can likely surmise in reading over the list of concerns that lead to patients receiving care at a trauma center, how they suffer their injuries varies greatly.

It may include:

  • A slip and fall, such as when a person’s head strikes shelving or the ground at a store or on a sidewalk outside of a business
  • An act of violence, such as a shooting or stabbing at a public venue, retail outlet, or person’s home, perhaps attributable to negligent security
  • Auto accidents, including a motorcycle crash, car wreck, pedestrian accident, or tractor-trailer collision
  • An apartment building or office building suddenly becoming engulfed by fire, and a person’s ability to escape the flames being challenging due to exits being blocked or locked
  • Construction sites “caught in or struck by” incidents that put a person’s limbs at risk of amputation

The point is that patients seen at trauma centers may have suffered their injuries in any number of ways, yet the injuries they may be left with are similar, irrespective of how they occurred.

Making Sense of the Different Trauma Center Levels

As we hinted above, there’s not just one type of trauma center but multiple levels of them. According to the American Trauma Society, there are five different levels of trauma centers, each of which provides different levels of care. Those trauma center levels include:

Level I

This tier of care is considered to offer the most comprehensive care. That means it ranges from preventative to rehabilitative care. This is often why Tier I trauma centers like these receive referrals from smaller, lesser-equipped hospitals in nearby areas and also why facilities like these are often active in spearheading public education and prevention programs in the community.

Medical facilities like these are additionally staffed 24 hours a day by general surgeons and, in addition, have the following physician specialists available on a short turnaround:

  • Neurosurgeons
  • Emergency medicine, internal medicine, and critical care doctors
  • Orthopedics
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons
  • Radiologists
  • Anesthesiologists
  • Pediatricians
  • Plastic surgeons

Given the influx of patients Level I trauma centers receive and the varied conditions they’re presented with, they ensure their doctors and their support personnel receive ample continuing education opportunities.

They also tend to regularly perform quality assessments. It’s not uncommon for these facilities to serve as teaching hospitals where innovative, life-saving treatment options are evaluated and utilized.

Level II

This second-tier trauma center is capable of providing injured patients with what the American Trauma Society refers to as “definitive care.”

While these facilities offer immediate access to a general surgeon and some specialists, like an emergency room (ER) doctor, neurosurgeon, anesthesiologist, critical care doctor, and radiologist 24 hours a day, they have to refer to Level I trauma centers patients requiring such care as to the following:

  • Hemodialysis
  • Cardiac surgery
  • Microvascular surgery

Medical facilities like these are active in facilitating continuing education opportunities for staff, providing trauma prevention outreach programming, and maintaining a quality assessment program, much like tier 1 trauma centers.

Level III

These hospitals are typically “fed” by community and rural hospitals. These trauma centers and their staff are capable of doing the following for patients:

  • Assessing and resuscitating them
  • Operating on and stabilizing them
  • Caring for them in their intensive care unit

While level III trauma centers have an ER doctor on staff 24 hours per day, there generally isn’t any general surgeon or anesthesiologist on staff; however, given how these facilities have them on call, they can be called upon and promptly arrive to render treatment.

These facilities typically have standing transfer agreements with level I and II trauma centers if their patients require next-level care.

Level IV

These facilities offer advanced trauma life support (ATLS) services, including evaluations, diagnoses, and stabilization, but typically transfer patients to higher-tiered trauma facilities for more dedicated, qualified care.

To assist with these processes, this tier medical center provides a trauma physician and nurse(s) upon patient arrival, has a 24-hour laboratory, and may even offer surgical and critical care services.

However, in many cases, patients with significant traumatic injuries are generally referred to Level I and II trauma centers per a pre-existing transfer agreement.

Level V

This is the lowest-tier trauma center, only capable of providing evaluative, diagnostic, and stabilizing services to patients. These medical centers will typically transfer patients to Tier I to Tier III facilities, depending on transfer agreements that exist with them and the severity of a patient’s condition.

Injuries and Illnesses That Are Best Treated in Emergency Rooms Instead of Trauma Care Facilities

According to the Penn Medicine source cited above, hospital emergency rooms are equipped to care for patients who are currently struggling with the following suspected or actual injuries or illnesses:

  • Chest pains, which may be indicative of a heart attack
  • Strains or sprains
  • Bone fractures
  • Any signs of stroke, like slurred speech or sudden paralysis on one side of the body
  • Minor burns, like first or second-degree ones
  • Any abdominal discomfort, with or without nausea and vomiting
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

Paying for Life-Saving Care Received at a Trauma Center

As noted above, treatment at a level I trauma center often involves a full suite of services, including rehabilitation.

Transportation of critically wounded or ill patients by helicopter, for example, can carry with it a significant cost. It’s safe to say that “you pay for” the top-level care received at trauma centers. In other words, receiving life-saving care after becoming involved in a traumatic accident doesn’t come cheap.

Mental anguish and stress don’t help with your healing but are concerns that plague many individuals and their families who’ve endured traumatic injuries. This is particularly the case if that incident resulted in life-altering injuries, such as paralysis or cognitive defects that may impact a patient’s ability to remain gainfully employed or to work in the same field they previously did.

Here at Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco, we have long represented clients who’ve suffered catastrophic, life-altering injuries in Philadelphia due to another party’s negligence.

We know how significant the costs associated with receiving the level of care you require can be. And, we have a proven track record for recovering maximum compensation to cover treatment, so you have the strongest potential of returning to the best possible version of life that is available to you in light of what you’ve been through and the residual injuries you have. We want to help you do the same.

Speaking with one of our personal injury attorneys is completely free. This meeting allows us to learn more about how you sustained your injuries so we can better understand how Pennsylvania law applies to your case, including the rights our state affords you in your situation.

The time frame within which you can file a lawsuit is particularly short, so make it a priority to reach out to our law firm as soon as possible about your potential case.


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