How is a trauma unit different from an emergency room?

A trauma unit is staffed by trauma physicians, whereas an ER doesn't necessarily have the staff to care for acute trauma patients.

Emergency departments that are not trauma centers lack the immediate multidisciplinary team approach to rapidly managing a severely injured person. Trauma—which involves a severely injured person—is a surgical emergency, and emergency physicians are not surgeons. The typical response to a seriously injured or ill person in an emergency department (ED) is one doctor and two nurses. Our trauma center has a team of nine professionals that respond; a trauma surgeon, emergency physician, three nurses, and ancillary staffs.

The trauma system and trauma care works on the principle of the “Golden Hour.” The Golden Hour has been a guiding principle for more than 30 years and is simple: If a trauma patient can make it to an operating room within 60 minutes of his or her injury, then mortality is cut by 25 percent. It is difficult to have the patient in an operating room within 60 minutes if he or she is transported to a non-trauma center.

A trauma center has a specially trained team that's available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assess and treat trauma patients. This team includes one on-site trauma-trained surgeon and a backup trauma-trained surgeon who can respond quickly to the hospital when needed. In addition, it has the same resources and personnel usually available in a non-trauma emergency room.

Dr. Karen L. Gorton, PhD, MS, RN
Emergency Room Nursing Specialist

The emergency room, or department, can be a part of a trauma center. A trauma center has specific qualifications to take patients who need specific levels of care. A level I trauma center provides all services (surgery, radiology, neurology, orthopedics, medical, renal, GU, pulmonology, cardiac and others) 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. These services are all available when the patient enters the trauma area.

A level II trauma center may provide these services, but they are not all available when the patient enters the trauma center. The providers may be within a specific time of the hospital.

The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) will provide information about the patient’s condition to the dispatch. This information will be used to direct the patient to the appropriate facility to provide the best care for the specific problem.

Dr. Kathleen Handal, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

A dedicated room or bay that receives/cares for by stabilizing and preparing if necessary a person to go immediately to the operating room (OR). Assigned are specially trained/credentialed team with a "captain" from doctors to respiratory personnel and all in-between that can care for a "trauma victim." This room can only used if the person has sustained injuries involving multiple locations in the body. Supplies, are unique and include,medications, "chest spreaders," auto-transfusion device, invasive equipment to imaging modalities (for instance ultrasound device) and usually video recording device. All that is needed and can be applied/used to rapidly diagnosis/treat/stabilize the person. Trauma centers go one further and beside the dedicated trauma surgeon standing by in hospital, they have an OR fully staffed 24/7 in case a trauma victim needs it. Definitely where one needs to go for severe trauma!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.