CHICAGO – Outcomes for children seen at pediatric trauma centers were not significantly different than for children seen at adult trauma centers, according to a review of more than 45,000 pediatric injuries.
The finding "has significant policy implications because it means that emergency medical services do not have to triage patients according to specialty care centers," and it informs discussions about pediatric access to trauma care, said researcher Dr. Cassandra Villegas of the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Trauma accounts for approximately one-third of all pediatric mortality, but there are only 170 pediatric-specific trauma centers in the United States, which "means that the vast majority of pediatric patients that are injured are actually managed and evaluated at adult trauma centers," Dr. Villegas said at the annual clinical congress of the American College of Surgeons.
Nonetheless, data on pediatric outcomes for children treated at pediatric vs. adult trauma centers have not been conclusive, and most previous studies have focused on metropolitan or state pediatric centers, she said.
Dr. Villegas and her colleagues reviewed data from the National Trauma Database for 2007-2008 that included 27 pediatric trauma centers and 30 adult (mixed care) centers that had pediatric beds. Most (90%) of the 30 mixed care centers provided all acute pediatric services, while 10% shared these services with another medical center. All of the pediatric centers and 90% of the mixed care centers had pediatric intensive care units. The pediatric centers were significantly more likely to be university hospitals than were the mixed centers (85% vs. 53%).
The researchers analyzed outcomes for children aged 0-14 years, including 33,327 patients treated at pediatric centers and 12,605 patients treated at mixed centers.
After controlling for multiple variables including injury characteristics, Dr. Villegas and her associates found that in-hospital mortality – the primary outcome – was twice as high at mixed centers as at pediatric centers (2% vs. 1%), but this difference was not significant. The median length of stay was 2 days at all centers, although ICU admission rates were higher at mixed centers vs. pediatric centers (26% vs. 14%).
Approximately one-third of the patients seen at either type of center had an Injury Severity Score (ISS) in the 9-15 range, said Dr. Villegas. Falls were the most common type of injury, accounting for 49% of cases at pediatric centers and 37% of cases at mixed centers.
The patients at mixed centers were more likely than those at pediatric centers to be hypotensive (18% vs. 10%).
The study was limited by several factors, including the low incidence of pediatric mortality, the lack of uniform coding for death on arrival, and differences in ICU admission practices, said Dr. Villegas.
However, the findings suggest that there are no differences in outcomes for children treated at pediatric vs. mixed care centers, she said.
Dr. Villegas reported having no financial conflicts of interest.