Author(s): Sugerman DE
BACKGROUND: Patients with severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), head Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) score of 3 or greater, who are indirectly transported from the scene of injury to a nontrauma center can experience delays to definitive neurosurgical management. Transport to a hospital with appropriate initial emergency department treatment and rapid admission has been shown to reduce mortality in a state's trauma system. This study was conducted to see if the same finding holds with a nationally representative sample of patients with severe TBI seen at Level I and II trauma centers. METHODS: This study is based on adult (≥18 years), severe TBI patients treated in a nationally representative sample of Level I and II trauma centers, submitting data to the National Trauma Databank National Sample Program from 2007 to 2009. We analyzed independent variables including age, sex, primary payer, race, ethnicity, mode of transport, injury type (blunt vs. penetrating), mechanism of injury, trauma center level, head AIS, initial Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), Injury Severity Score (ISS), and systolic blood pressure by transfer status. The primary outcome variable was inpatient death, with discharge disposition, neurosurgical procedures, and mean hospital, intensive care unit, and ventilator days serving as secondary outcomes. RESULTS: After exclusion criteria were applied (ISS < 16; age < 18 years; GCS motor score = 6; non-head AIS score ≥ 3; head AIS < 3; patients with missing transfer status, and death on arrival), a weighted sample of 51,300 (16%) patients was eligible for analysis. In bivariate analyses, transferred patients were older (≥60 years), white, insured, less severely injured (head AIS score ≤ 4, ISS ≤ 25), and less likely to have sustained penetrating trauma (p < 0.001). After controlling for all variables, direct transport, 1 or more comorbidities, advanced age, head AIS score, intracranial hemorrhage, and firearm injury remained significant predictors of death. Being transferred (adjusted odds ratio, 0.79; 95% confidence interval, 0.64-0.96) lowered the risk of death. CONCLUSION: Patients with severe TBI who were transferred to a Level I or II trauma center had lower injury severity, including less penetrating trauma, and, as a result, were less likely to die compared with patients who were directly admitted to a Level I or II trauma center. The results may demonstrate adherence with the current Guidelines for Prehospital Management of Traumatic Brain Injury and Guidelines for Field Triage of Injured Patients, which recommend the direct transport of patients with severe TBI to the highest level trauma center. Patients with severe TBI who cannot be taken to a trauma center should be stabilized at a nontrauma center and then transferred to a Level I or II trauma center. Regional and national trauma databases should consider collecting information on patient outcomes at referral facilities and total transport time after injury, to better address the outcomes of patient triage decisions.