Severely injured patients who first are evaluated at non-trauma emergency departments (EDs) are less likely to be transferred to trauma centers if they are insured, according to a study by M. Kit Delgado, M.D., M.S., of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and colleagues.

Trauma is the leading cause of premature death before age 65 in the United States. Timely care in a designated trauma center has been shown to reduce death rates by 25 percent, according to the study background.

The authors analyzed a nationwide sample of emergency room trauma patients (ages 18 to 64) who were seen at 636 non-trauma centers and they assessed factors associated with inpatient admission vs. transfer to a trauma center.

In the study, 54.5 percent of the patients seen at the non-trauma centers were admitted. Compared to patients without insurance, the risk of admission vs. transfer was an absolute 14.3 percent higher for patients with Medicaid and 11.2 percent higher for patients with private insurance.

"In summary, we found that insured, critically injured trauma patients are much less likely to be transferred out of non-trauma EDs [emergency departments] than uninsured trauma patients after adjusting for patient, injury and hospital characteristics. Given that transfer to a trauma center has been shown to reduce mortality, these insured patients may be receiving suboptimal care," the study concludes.