One-third of gun injuries in America are treated in non-trauma centers

Penn findings suggest opportunities to expand efforts beyond trauma centers to prevent recurrent gun injuries.

Of the roughly 74,000 emergency department visits for gunshot injuries in the United States every year, a third are treated in community hospitals that are not trauma centers, according to new research published in JAMA Surgery. While public health efforts to better understand gun violence in the U.S. have increased, until now there has been relatively limited research on non-fatal gun injuries, which far outnumber fatal injuries, and where patients are treated.

trauma team in hospital corridor

The recent availability of nationally representative data from over 900 U.S. hospitals allows researchers to better understand the injuries that are seen in the emergency department, and their causes and outcomes. The study, from researchers at Penn Medicine, could help inform hospitals’ efforts to reduce future gun-related injuries in their communities.

“Most people would expect that these injured patients are taken to trauma centers, but we found out that one in three are not. That’s fairly surprising given that there is much greater chance of survival of critical injuries if treated in a trauma center based on the expertise, resources, and protocols that exist in these centers,” says M. Kit Delgado, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and epidemiology in the Perelman School of Medicine and Penn’s Injury Science Center.

Among U.S. trauma centers, only 25 have established hospital-based violence intervention programs aimed at preventing recurrent firearm injuries—which occur in about one in 10 patients. These programs have shown not only to lower non-fatal injuries and saves lives, but also cut down on health care costs.

The new findings underscore the need to expand such programs to both trauma and non-trauma centers. Expanding the coverage of violence intervention programs across all trauma centers would cover most assault victims, the authors say, but these programs would benefit from engaging the high volume of patients treated and released directly from the emergency department.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.