Trauma remains a big problem in Arizona; it’s the leading cause of death for folks under 44 and nearly 27,000 people suffered injuries severe enough to be cared for in trauma centers in 2009. We’ve been working hard over the last few years to recruit new rural hospitals into the trauma system as Level IV trauma hospitals (see my previous blog). As of last month, we now have 11 Level IV trauma centers spread out across the state that augment the 8 existing Level I trauma centers in Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson.
Our next objectives include recruiting 2 or 3 Level III trauma centers in select rural communities that can care for moderately injured patients whose injuries are severe enough that our Level IV centers can’t care for them, but who don’t require the specialized care that is available from the Level I trauma centers. This is important because it is very expensive and disruptive for the patient and their families to take them long distances away from home to provide care.
While we will continue to seek out additional rural hospitals for trauma center designation, we’re also working on some other projects that will improve our trauma system. This past year the State Trauma Advisory Board approved guidelines to help our doctors, nurses and EMTs make better judgments on whether to use a helicopter or ground ambulance to transport patients. This is important because we have limited resources and using a helicopter to transport a patient who could have gone by ground ambulance removes that resource from the system, making it unable to respond to another, more critical call. It also means that a patient that could have been transported by ground ambulance will now have a very large helicopter bill to pay in addition to their other medical bills.
We’re also regularly providing all trauma centers with a variety of performance data for their facility that are benchmarked against the performance of the other trauma hospitals. This is important because, like you and I, these facilities like to compare themselves to others and improve. These reports are great because they are inexpensive to produce, non-threatening and trigger the positive competitive nature of healthcare providers to be the best at what they do.