Trauma Centers Take Emergency Care to the Next Level

Learn more about the life-saving benefits of trauma care.

Paramedics and doctor taking patient out of ambulance

Learn more about the life-saving benefits of trauma care.

Each year in the United States, trauma accounts for 41 million emergency room visits. As the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 46 years old, when a trauma injury strikes, timely and expert treatment is critical to ensuring a patient’s survival and long-term recovery.


A traumatic injury refers to physical injuries that are sudden, severe and require immediate medical attention to save life and limb. Traumatic injuries can result from motor vehicle crashes, sports injuries, falls, assaults, natural disasters and many other causes.

“Traumatic injury is never expected, therefore, immediate and expert surgical treatment is critical to ensuring a patient’s survival and long-term recovery,” said Vishal Bansal, MD, trauma medical director at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego.


Most hospitals have emergency rooms where patients can receive treatment for everything from cuts and broken bones to burns and signs of a heart attack. But not all hospitals have trauma centers.


Trauma centers, which are typically located inside emergency rooms, are specially equipped and staffed to take care of the most extreme -- and often life-threatening -- injuries.


“The combination of highly specialized caregivers and the most advanced equipment available around-the-clock in a trauma center greatly increases a trauma patient’s chances of survival and recovery,” said Imad Dandan, MD, trauma medical director at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.


Expert trauma surgeons and other specialty physicians, nurses, social workers, case managers and technologists dedicated to trauma care are available 24 hours a day to provide the best care for the critically injured, with the most advanced trauma treatments and technology available. Trauma center offerings can include on-site imaging, specialized operating suites, interventional radiology and pathology to ensure patients are diagnosed and treated quickly.


Trauma centers also conduct research to help improve trauma patient care and outcomes; some have surgical and emergency room physician residents actively involved in trauma care and research activities.


In San Diego County, only six of the region’s hospitals – including Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla and Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego – are designated as trauma centers in the county’s trauma system. The San Diego County Trauma System is a nationally recognized model for trauma care. Because of this regional trauma system, a person who sustains a life-threatening injury in San Diego is twice as likely to survive compared to any other part of the U.S.


The County Health and Human Services Agency’s (HHSA) Emergency Medical Service department triages patients to one of the county’s six trauma centers based on a number of factors, including geographic proximity. Each trauma center receives injured trauma patients in a defined region of the county, or “catchment area.”

“Experts from every discipline provide immediate, comprehensive and compassionate care,” Dr. Bansal said about the trauma center at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego.

In 2014 alone, the last year for which figures are available from the county, the region’s six trauma centers cared for nearly 11,000 trauma patients. That’s up 18 percent from 10 years earlier.


Before the county trauma system was created in 1984, preventable deaths from major traumatic injuries were at a staggering 21 percent. Three decades later, that number has dropped to less than one percent.


“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Dr. Dandan. “Trauma centers save lives.”