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May 31, 2005

Penn Study Documents Access to Trauma Centers
in the United States

Findings show that 84 % of US residents are within
one hour of a trauma center

(Philadelphia, PA) - A study led by University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers has, for the first time, determined access to trauma centers at the national level. The study found that about 70 percent and 84 percent of all US residents had access to a Level I or Level II Trauma Center within 45 and 60 minutes, respectively. Most of the roughly 46.7 million Americans who had no access within an hour live in rural areas. The study’s results are reported in the June 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Quickly getting to a trauma center will very likely save your life if you are seriously injured, and we need to get more people basic access to these important hospitals,” says the study’s lead author, Charles Branas, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Penn.

According to the study, a prime way to increase access to life-saving trauma care was through medical helicopters, which provided access to about 81.4 million Americans who otherwise would not have been able to reach a trauma center within an hour. The authors concluded that more, well-placed medical helicopter bases would be a practical way to extend trauma-center access to suburban and rural residents who currently have none.

The debate over just how many Americans have access to trauma centers, and how quickly, has been unsolved since trauma centers were created in the 1970s. Researchers and policymakers were thus eager to know the effect of location and how they might geographically reorganize trauma centers, ambulances, and medical helicopters to improve access. The researchers used two new national databases, one based on the location of trauma centers and another on the location of helipads to ascertain their figures.

To improve access to trauma care in the United States, the researchers offer three recommendations - select trauma centers based on the geographic need of the surrounding population, appropriately locate medical helicopter bases to provide outlying communities with access to trauma centers, and establish more agreements that allow residents injured in one state to use the trauma centers and ambulances in another.

“A concerted effort between hospitals, the air medical industry, and state policymakers is needed if we’re going to expand rapid access to life-saving trauma care for Americans who have none,” says Branas.

The study was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the American Trauma Society, and the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Study co-author C. William Schwab is from Penn. Other study co-authors are Ellen J. MacKenzie, Justin C. Williams, and Charles S. ReVelle with Johns Hopkins University; Harry M. Teter of the American Trauma Society; and Marie C. Flanigan and Alan J. Blatt with Calspan-University at Buffalo Research Center.

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PENN Medicine is a $2.7 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn’s School of Medicine is ranked #3 in the nation for receipt of NIH research funds; and ranked #4 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

Penn Health System is comprised of: its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, consistently rated one of the nation’s “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; Presbyterian Medical Center; a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home health care and hospice.

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