Making the call in the field: Validating emergency medical services identification of anatomic trauma triage criteria

Andrew Paul Deeb*, Heather M. Phelos, Andrew B. Peitzman, Timothy R. Billiar, Jason L. Sperry, Joshua B. Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: The National Field Triage Guidelines were created to inform triage decisions by emergency medical services (EMS) providers and include eight anatomic injuries that prompt transportation to a Level I/II trauma center. It is unclear how accurately EMS providers recognize these injuries. Our objective was to compare EMS-identified anatomic triage criteriawith International Classification of Diseases-10th revision (ICD-10) coding of these criteria, as well as their association with trauma center need (TCN). METHODS: Scene patients 16 years and older in theNTDB during 2017 were included.National Field Triage Guidelines anatomic criteriawere classified based on EMS documentation and ICD-10 diagnosis codes. The primary outcome was TCN, a composite of Injury Severity Score greater than 15, intensive care unit admission, urgent surgery, or emergency department death. Prevalence of anatomic criteria and their associationwith TCN was compared in EMS-identified versus ICD-10-coded criteria. Diagnostic performance to predict TCN was compared. RESULTS: Therewere 669,795 patients analyzed. The ICD-10 coding demonstrated a greater prevalence of injury detection. Emergencymedical service-identified versus ICD-10-coded anatomic criteriawere less sensitive (31%vs. 59%), butmore specific (91%vs. 73%) and accurate (71% vs. 68%) for predicting TCN. Emergency medical service providers demonstrated a marked reduction in false positives (9% vs. 27%) but higher rates of false negatives (69% vs. 42%) in predicting TCN from anatomic criteria. Odds of TCN were significantly greater for EMS-identified criteria (adjusted odds ratio, 4.5; 95%confidence interval, 4.46-4.58) versus ICD-10 coding (adjusted odds ratio 3.7; 95% confidence interval, 3.71-3.79). Of EMS-identified injuries, penetrating injury, flail chest, and two or more proximal long bone fractures were associated with greater TCN than ICD-10 coding. CONCLUSION: When evaluating the anatomic criteria, EMS demonstrate greater specificity and accuracy in predicting TCN, as well as reduced false positives compared with ICD-10 coding. Emergency medical services identification is less sensitive for anatomic criteria; however, EMS identify the most clinically significant injuries. Further study is warranted to identify the most clinically important anatomic triage criteria to improve our triage protocols.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)967-972
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Anatomic criteria
  • Emergency medical services
  • Field
  • Prehospital
  • Triage


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