Scene times & penetrating trauma

An observational cohort study of penetrating trauma patients treated by the Mobile Emergency Care Unit in Copenhagen, Denmark over a seven-and-a-half year period sought to determine the effect of on-scene time on 30-day mortality.

In this setting, in cases of penetrating trauma to the chest, or abdomen, a Mobile Emergency Care Unit (MECU) and Basic Life Support unit are dispatched simultaneously, and rendezvous at the site of the incident. The MECU is staffed with consultants in anaesthesiology, intensive care and emergency medicine, as well as a specially trained ALS provider.


The physician manning the MECU administers medication and is able to perform procedures such as intubation, thoracocentesis, pleural drainage, intravenous and intraosseous access for fluid resuscitation. Although some patients were in cardiac arrest due to penetrating torso trauma (9 patients received chest compressions, and all were dead at 30 follow up), thoracotomy was not listed as a skill provided.

Of the 467 patients registered, 442 (94.6%) were identified at the 30-day follow-up, of whom 40 (9%) were dead. A higher mortality was found among patients treated on-scene for more than 20 min (p<0.0001), although on-scene time was not a significant predictor of 30-day mortality in the multivariate analysis; OR 3.71, 95% CI 0.66 to 20.70 (p<0.14). The number of procedures was significantly correlated to a higher mortality in the multivariate analysis.

The authors conclude that on-scene time might be important in penetrating trauma, and ALS procedures should not delay transport to definite care at the hospital. However their adjusted Odds Ratio for on scene time >20 minutes as a predictor of 30 day mortality was 3.71 with very wide 95% confidence intervals (0.66 to 20.70) and there were several weaknesses and confounding factors in the study which the authors acknowledge.

The only real information this study provides appears to be on the idiosyncrasies of the Copenhagen pre-hospital care system. Looking at their list of procedures and their practice of chest compressions in cardiac arrest due to penetrating trauma, it is very hard to ascertain what, if any, advantage their physicians offer over trained paramedics. As the authors point out: “Currently, strict guidelines are not practiced. Hence, the decision to treat by a ‘scoop and run’ or a ‘stay and play’ approach is at the discretion of the physician

On-scene time and outcome after penetrating trauma: an observational study
Emerg Med J. 2010 Oct 9. [Epub ahead of print]

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