A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Trauma centers: Expert care when emergencies happen

Trauma centers have experts, resources and coordinated care to treat injuries through recovery support.

Trauma teams are specialized to respond to life threatening emergencies or injuries that require that immediate treatment.

When emergencies happen, you want quick thinking, caring medical professionals at your side. In life-changing events or injuries, you will receive care at a trauma center.

Trauma centers have experts, resources and coordinated care to treat injuries through recovery support. Trauma categories vary from state to state. In Wisconsin, the state verifies Level III and Level IV trauma centers. The American College of Surgeons evaluates Level I and Level II trauma centers during the accreditation process. Trauma centers must demonstrate they meet the standards to become verified or re-verified every three years.

Wisconsin trauma center categories

While hospitals care for patients in emergencies, not every hospital is a trauma center. In Wisconsin, Level I and Level II trauma centers provide the most advanced care for patients. Trauma care extends beyond the emergency room. They are the full system from injury prevention, care for critical injuries and rehabilitation.

Our trauma center employees collaborate and communicate with each other daily to make sure the best care is provided to our patients,” said Gina Brandl, Marshfield Medical Center in Marshfield’s adult trauma program manager at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Trauma care is about a system rather than an individual or a place.”

Level I and Level II trauma centers are staffed 24 hours with in-house coverage by general surgeons. There is prompt availability of care in specialties such as orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology, internal medicine, plastic surgery, oral and maxillofacial, pediatrics and critical care. They serve as a regional resource that other trauma centers and hospitals can refer to for higher-level care.

Level II trauma centers offer the same level of care as a Level I. However, the major difference is a Level II doesn’t typically offer as extensive teaching or research.

A Level III trauma center provides assessment, resuscitation, surgery, intensive care and stabilization of injured patients and emergency operations. They have 24-hour immediate coverage by emergency medicine physicians and the prompt availability of general surgeons and anesthesiologists. They have transfer agreements with Level I or Level II trauma centers for patients who require care that is more comprehensive.

Going further down trauma ranking, the Level IV trauma centers have emergency physicians who will assess condition of patients. They stabilize patients and begin diagnostics to evaluate and transfer patients to a higher level trauma center if needed.

Differences between trauma centers and emergency departments

Trauma centers are for patients with critical or life-threatening injuries. Time is of the essence.

“Our trauma team is really equipped to handle those life threatening emergencies or injuries that require that immediate treatment,” Brandl said. “Our board-certified critical care surgeons bring a level of expertise to treat injures we might see from our rural areas like motorcycle accidents, an ATV or UTV accident or even injuries from farming accidents.”

Care starts as early as EMS response and hospitals and trauma centers value relationships with these community teams. They provide critical support to provide timely intervention that saves lives. Once at the facility, trauma care teams follow specific criteria and triage guidelines to identify the more seriously injured patients.

“We offer highly specialized, comprehensive trauma care,” Brandl said. “That makes a world of difference in our rural communities. The network of hospitals in Marshfield Clinic Health System provides the immediate access to trauma centers throughout our service area.”

In contrast, an emergency department provides care to a broad range of non-life threatening injuries like broken bones, stitches or minor burns. They have medical experts who provide care for illnesses or conditions such as a heart attack or stroke.

Education can prevent injury

Trauma care teams of all levels engage with their communities through education and prevention resources. Staff and providers from trauma centers are leaders in their organization and communities who take part in research, innovations and comprehensive quality assessment.

Trauma team members want to help prevent injuries before they happen. They offer community-based injury prevention programs and resources for adults and children.

Programs focusing on injury prevention collaborate with area schools, youth groups and organizations. They provide a variety of programs like educating parents and children on bicycle safety and helmet fittings, alcohol and impaired driving, distracted driving and fall prevention.

“In our area, the team provides safety education related to farming injury prevention, falls, bicycle and road safety,” Brandl said. “The center also invests in research about farming injuries.”

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