BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas trauma system has been a tremendous success, not only when measured by the number of lives it has saved but also by the improved quality of life of survivors.
Before the legislature created the trauma system in 2009, it took several hours for medical officials to arrange for trauma patients to be accepted at a higher level facility that had the resources to provide proper care. Now, the average time of acceptance for all trauma patients is seven minutes and 17 seconds.
It’s critical to get accident victims as quickly as possible to the right medical facility. That doesn’t always mean the closest medical facility, but the one that has specialists on hand to provide emergency care with equipment necessary.
Before creation of the trauma system, ambulance drivers drove to the closest hospital or medical facility. Now, they bypass the closest facility about 24 percent of the time, in order to continue on to the higher level hospital that has the ability to treat severely injured patients.
In a state like Arkansas, with vast areas of highways in rural areas, the ability of ambulances to save time is vital. What makes it work is a statewide telecommunications network manned 24 hours a day by EMTs and nurses who direct ambulance drivers to the nearest hospital with the appropriate capability.
Trauma radios have been installed in more than 500 ambulances in Arkansas. When the ambulance picks up an accident victim, EMTs can immediately contact the trauma network. Then they are connected to emergency room personnel at the ambulance’s destination. Therefore, as soon as the patient arrives at the hospital, staff is prepared to begin treatment because much of the preparatory work has been done while the ambulance was in route.
In the past four years the trauma communication center has coordinated the proper destination and care for more than 58,000 patients.
In Arkansas 117 ambulance providers participate in the state trauma system, which provides funding for training at 32 locations. Since the legislature created the trauma system with Act 393 of 2009, more than 150 new paramedics and EMTs have been trained.
So far, 69 hospitals have joined the trauma system. Five are designated as Level 1, which is the most comprehensive. Also, four have been designated as Level 2. They offer the same level of care as Level 1 hospitals, but lack the community outreach and education programs that Level 1 hospitals offer.
Twenty hospitals are Level 3. They provide treatment for mild and moderate injuries, which are the majority. Forty hospitals are Level 4, which means they can stabilize severely injured patients for transfer to a higher level center.
In 2008, before passage of Act 393, traumatic injury was the number one cause of death for Arkansas residents between the ages of 1 and 44. Our injury fatality rate was 33 percent higher than the national average.
Medical officials are still measuring the effect of our trauma system. It’s impossible to compare current fatality rates with what might have happened had we done nothing. However, we do know that from 2009 to 2011 the Health Department counted 90 fewer deaths in Arkansas caused by injuries.
The system is relatively new and utilization of all aspects of the trauma network continue to increase, but the early results are very positive. Our trauma system is saving lives.