Proximal penetrating extremity injuries-An opportunity to decrease overtriage?

Grace E. Martin, Heng He, Amy T. Makley, Timothy A. Pritts, Joel B. Elterman, Jay A. Johannigman, Michael D. Goodman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND Penetrating injuries to the extremity proximal to the elbow or knee are anatomic criteria for full trauma team activation (FFTA) by the American College of Surgeon's Committee on Trauma standards. This criterion lacks objective evidence-based support. Overtriage of trauma team activation may result in excessive costs and resource burden at trauma centers. We hypothesized that FFTA for penetrating injuries to the proximal extremities by anatomic criteria alone may lead to significant overtriage. METHODS A 3-year retrospective review (2013-2015) was completed of all patients evaluated at an urban Level I trauma center with isolated penetrating extremity injuries. Data included the number of full and limited trauma team activations as well as criterion met, Injury Severity Score (ISS), injury, limb characteristics, and disposition. Overtriage was defined as FFTA for an ISS of 15 or less, with a goal rate less than 50%. RESULTS We identified 6,335 total trauma team activations with 795 isolated penetrating extremity injuries. Of these injuries, 413 (51.9%) were injuries proximal to the joint. Within this subgroup, 71.2% of patients were discharged from the emergency department with a median ISS of 1 and no additional intervention. Only 5.3% of patients that did not meet additional FFTA criteria underwent immediate operative intervention. By comparison, 21% of FFTAs and 5.8% of limited trauma team activations underwent immediate operative intervention during the 3-year period. Of the 413 isolated penetrating proximal-extremity injuries, only one had an ISS of 15 or greater, resulting in a 99.7% overtriage rate. CONCLUSION Penetrating injuries to the extremities are common in urban trauma centers. Full trauma team activation based on anatomic, rather than physiologic, criteria may lead to a significant overtriage rate. Further distinction in the level of trauma team activation may be made based on hard signs of neurovascular injury. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE Epidemiological study, level III; Care Management, level IV.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-127
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018


  • Proximal-extremity injury
  • overtriage
  • trauma team activation


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