I often ponder the nature of luck. As a trauma surgeon, almost all my patients have been in an accident of one sort or another.
Was that young man who crashed his motorcycle late at night on a country road lucky?
It’s all relative. There was nothing lucky about the crash itself.
The lucky part of his story started later, when somebody found him and emergency medical services personnel raced him to a hospital where trauma care is a specialty.
His legs and arms were broken in more places than you could easily count. In spite of the violence of the crash he had no brain damage or spinal injuries—always my worst fear. He had been wearing a helmet—a good way to keep lady luck on your side.
The specially trained orthopedic team operated and put things right the best they could and his postoperative care was provided by highly trained physicians that are skilled in this type of patient care.
Despite all of their best efforts and care, our patient faced a lengthy rehabilitation that would test his will more than his luck. The fact that he was taken to a verified trauma center was certainly a lucky break.
Researchers have found that severely injured trauma victims have a 25-percent greater chance of survival if they are taken to a Level 1 trauma center.
Trauma centers are set up to provide specialized care for patients suffering from traumatic injuries, like the kind caused by falls or road accidents. A level 1 trauma center is the highest possible designation. It has to be ready 24/7 to treat the most serious life threatening and disabling injuries.
The actual requirement list for verification as a level I trauma center is quite lengthy and full of minute detail. For the most part level 1 centers are required have a full array of highly-trained specialists on call around the clock.
These experts include trauma surgeons, specially trained emergency physicians, plastic and micro-vascular surgeons, anesthesiologists, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, cardiac surgeons, radiologists and nurses.
We also need to have extensive diagnostic facilities and protocols that help us make decisions quickly and as a team. This increases the speed and accuracy of the care we deliver to the patients who need it most.
Maintaining these specialists and capabilities can be very expensive and resource intensive, but the results speak for themselves and it is the type of care we want our loved ones to have when they face an unexpected crisis.
In addition, we act as public safety educators to try to prevent the types of injuries that could be avoided and to promote community awareness.
We maintain a research program to evaluate the care we provide, and to help find ways to improve how we deliver that care. This ensures that our patients get outstanding results and the highest level of care available.
Level 1 trauma centers also provide education to other care providers in non-trauma facilities and to the community in general as a part of their mission.
Extensive peer review of treatments and outcomes is also a big part of the program. Constant peer review helps us find out what we are doing right and also gives us insight into how we can keep improving.
Ceaseless attention to delivering care in a more decisive, accurate fashion is important for patient outcomes and makes us aware that no matter how good we think we are, there is always room for improvement.
The expense and effort that goes into keeping a level 1 trauma center going means there will never be enough of these important medical institutions. In Minnesota there are only four such centers.
Still there is no substitute for the medical expertise a trauma center can bring to bear on seriously injured patients. Many patients across Minnesota receive care at one of the hospitals that have been verified as a trauma center and are part of the state trauma system.
This system has been set up to get patients to a facility that has the required resources to provide the type of care that injured patients need.
If a patient is likely to require more care than a facility can deliver, the system encourages them to transfer the patient to a higher level of care where the right resources are available.
The four level 1 trauma centers have the most resources and the most immediate capabilities for patient care. Any patient injured in Minnesota can arrive at any emergency department, at any verified hospital and get the right type of care and decision-making that will help them get better.
The proof is in saved lives and a better quality of life, as trauma victims like our lucky motorcyclist take the often long road back to recovery.
Be safe. Be healthy. Be good to yourself.
The Good Doctor