Background Elderly patients are frequently undertriaged. However, the associations between triage patterns and outcomes from a population perspective are unknown. We hypothesized that triage patterns would be associated with differences in outcomes. Study Design This is a population-based, retrospective, cohort study of all injured adults aged 55 years or older, from 3 counties in California and 4 in Utah (2006 to 2007). Prehospital data were linked to trauma registry data, state-level discharge data, emergency department records, and death files. The primary outcome was 60-day mortality. Patients treated at trauma centers were compared with those treated at nontrauma centers. Undertriage was defined as an Injury Severity Score (ISS) >15, with transport to a nontrauma center. Results There were 6,015 patients in the analysis. Patients who were taken to nontrauma centers were, on average, older (79.4 vs 70.& years, p < 0.001), more often female (68.6% vs 50.2%, p < 0.01), and less often had an ISS >15 (2.2% vs 6.7%, p < 0.01). There were 244 patients with an ISS >15 and the undertriage rate was 32.8% (n = 80). Overall 60-day mortality for patients with an ISS >15 was 17%, with no difference between trauma and nontrauma centers in unadjusted or adjusted analyses. However, the median per-patient costs were $21,000 higher for severely injured patients taken to trauma centers. Conclusions This is the first population-based analysis of triage patterns and outcomes in the elderly. We have shown high rates of undertriage that are not associated with higher mortality, but are associated with higher costs. Future work should focus on determining how to improve outcomes for this population.
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