Traumatic injuries — body damage from a physical impact or accident such as a motorvehicle accident, gunshot wound, blunt force or drowning — represent the leading cause of death of children and adults in the U.S. 1 to 44 years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While most injuries can be effectively treated at local emergency departments, receiving care at a Level 1 trauma center may lower the risk of death by as much as 25 percent for the most-severe cases.
“A Level 1 trauma center represents the highest level of emergency care because we have all of the resources available to take care of any kind of traumatic injury, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year,” says Mark Morocco, M.D., an emergency-medicine physician at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, one of six Level 1 trauma centers in the Los Angeles area. “When patients with life-threatening injuries make it to a Level 1 trauma center within 60 minutes of their injury, sometimes referred to as the ‘golden hour,’ they have significantly better survival rates” Dr. Morocco says.
Trauma centers are tiered as levels 1 to 4 based on the types of care available. Level 1 trauma centers have the resources to provide total care for every aspect of injury. Key components include 24-hour in-house coverage by general surgeons and immediate availability of specialty care, such as orthopaedic surgery, neurosurgery, cardiovascular surgery, pediatric surgery and critical care. But, according to Dr. Morocco, patients should focus on getting help quickly rather than on the level of the trauma center where they seek care.
“It’s always best, if you can, to call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room and let professionals figure it out,” he says. “Emergency-medicine specialists will know what to do in terms of immediate, on-the-scene care and will follow established criteria about where to take the mostseriously injured patients.”
Dr. Morocco also recommends that people take safety precautions to prevent serious injuries, such as wearing seat belts while driving, enabling car air bags and avoiding places where they may be exposed to drugs, alcohol and/or firearms.