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Understand the difference between a trauma centre and emergency department

Trauma in medical terms refers to a serious or critical injury to the body caused by any event such as motor vehicle crash, burns, gunshot wounds, assault, etc. A facility which is certified to provide specialized medical services and treatment to patients suffering from a traumatic injury is called a trauma centre. These centres are continuously prepared to treat serious and life-threatening conditions and disabling injuries. These centres are a part of the hospital but do not replace the emergency medical services or the traditional hospital facilities which focus on minor as well as broader medical treatment, respectively.

Typically there are different levels of trauma such as:

Level 1: These centres provide multidisciplinary treatment and specialized resources for patients suffering from any kind of trauma. These also support trauma research and run a surgical residency program.

Level 2: This level of trauma offers the same level of treatment and resources as level 1 but does not support research or surgical residency program.

Level 3: These are small trauma centres which serve to stabilize the patient so that he/she can be transported to a better trauma centre.

Level 4: These centres are only equipped to provide the initial care and help the patient stabilize. The patient will need a better facility to be completely treated for trauma.

On the other hand, an emergency department is a section of the hospital responsible for providing medical and surgical care to patients visiting the hospital in need of immediate care. This department specialized in emergency medicine and acute care of patients who reach the hospital without prior appointment, either on their own or through an ambulance. This section deals with all kinds of problems including injuries and illness such as sprained ankles or heart attacks, strokes, etc. The spectrum of care includes chronic, progressive illness, acute illness and more. Not all hospitals have an emergency department; the basic aim of such a facility is to provide fast and high-quality care.

Difference between a Trauma Center and an Emergency Department

In many cases, people often confuse an emergency department with a trauma centre. Even though a trauma centre is a part of the broader emergency room, their functions and aim differ from that of an emergency department.

Trauma centres are equipped to handle extreme patient cases where there are bleak chances of immediate survival such as life-threatening and critical injuries. The centre is equipped with highly qualified surgeons who use the most advanced pieces of equipment to increase the chances of survival of a patient.  

 On the contrary, emergency rooms are broader facilities in the hospital which can treat minor to critical injuries and illnesses. The surgeons, doctors and nurses are fully equipped to treat a variety of conditions including a heart attack, stroke, fainting, broken limbs, or even a sprained ankle.

Medical Conditions Treated By the Trauma Center vs. Emergency Department

A patient should go to an emergency department when he/she is suffering from the following conditions:

  • Possible broken limbs with symptoms such as bruising, loss of function and numbness in the affected area. Also, if the bone is visible through the skin, a patient must head for the emergency room
  • Loss of consciousness due to reasons including a bump on the head. However, if the loss of consciousness is a result of traumatic injury to the head, the trauma centre would be the best option.
  • If a person experiences any symptoms that can indicate a possible stroke, they should be taken to the emergency department straight. Symptoms of a stroke include the drooping face, weakness or numbness in the arm, difficulty in speaking or slurry speech.
  • In case of unexplained stomach ache along with blood in vomit or stool, difficulty in breathing, fever, injury, etc.
  • A person who experiences shortness of breath with or without any chest pain could be suffering from critical problems including a heart attack and must be taken immediately to the emergency department
  • Severe diarrhoea or vomiting due to unexplainable reason could indicate a possible underlying condition and must be referred to an emergency room
  • Burns that can be classified as a first or second degree, and spread to an area of two-three inches or affect a major joint, should be treated in an emergency department

That said, in trauma centre cases, most often the decision is not made by the patient since the patient is not in a state to make the call. Trauma is a leading cause of death in many patients especially under the age of 40 years. A patient should be referred to as a trauma centre when he/she is suffering from the following conditions:

  • Traumatic motor vehicle crash/accident injuries
  • Gunshot wounds
  • Stab wounds
  • Major burns, especially if the burns are all over the body, require skin grafts or fall in category third or fourth
  • Serious falls
  • Blunt trauma, where the person is hit by an object resulting in life0thereatinging injury
  • Traumatic brain injuries

However, if the patient or the accomplice is unsure of whether to call the trauma centre or the emergency department, simply calling the ambulance or the hospital directly will suffice initially. The paramedics, doctors or the staff can take the call on where to take the patient. It is important to call for help immediately.

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