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J Orthop Trauma. 2006 Oct;20(9):613-7.

A prospective evaluation of patients with isolated orthopedic injuries transferred to a level I trauma center.

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  • 1Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine, and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.



To assess the indications for, the demographics of, and the appropriateness of patient transfers for orthopedic injuries to a level I trauma center.


All patients with isolated orthopedic trauma transferred to our level I trauma center (N = 128) by means of a physician-to-physician referral line during the call period of two surgeons were prospectively evaluated between January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2004. The specific indication for transfer, the specialty of the referring physician, the patient diagnosis, the perceived need for tertiary care referral (as assessed by a visual analog scale [VAS] based on the phone conversation with the transferring physician), and patient insurance status were obtained before the transfer. On patient arrival, each of these factors was reassessed for later comparison.


The transferring physician was an emergency department physician in 88 cases (69%), an orthopedic surgeon in 32 cases (25%), and an internist in the other eight cases (6%). In the 77 cases in which we could confirm the presence of an on-call orthopedist, the patient was examined by the orthopedic surgeon before being transferred in only 32 (42%) cases. In 98 cases (76%), the stated indication for transfer was that the case was too complex for care at the referring hospital or that there was a need for a subspecialist. There was no significant difference in pre- versus post-transfer case complexity as assessed by the VAS (P > 0.05). Although the reported insurance data before transfer was inaccurate in 34 patients (27%), the overall payer mixes reported before and after transfers were similar (23% Medicare, 20% HMO/PPO, 14% workers' compensation, 12% uninsured, 5% Medicaid). The insurance type for the transferred patients as a whole was not significantly different from the non-transferred patients treated by our orthopedic trauma service during the same time period (P > 0.05). Twenty transferred patients had a low VAS complexity score (<5), suggesting that their injuries did not necessarily require tertiary care. Fifteen of these 20 had Medicaid, Medicare, or no insurance. This was a significantly different (worse) payer mix than for the typical transferred patient (P < 0.05).


The need for an increased level of care was the predominant stated reason for patient transfer to our level I trauma center. Nonetheless, the orthopedic surgeon on call did not always examine the patient before transfer. Additionally, patients transferred who had a low level of complexity (those believed not to necessarily require tertiary care) had an insurance status that was worse than that of the typical transferred patient.

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