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The accuracy of prehospital triage decisions in English trauma networks - a case-cohort study.

BACKGROUND: Care for injured patients in England is provided by inclusive regional trauma networks. Ambulance services use triage tools to identify patients with major trauma who would benefit from expedited Major Trauma Centre (MTC) care. However, there has been no investigation of triage performance, despite its role in ensuring effective and efficient MTC care. This study aimed to investigate the accuracy of prehospital major trauma triage in representative English trauma networks.

METHODS: A diagnostic case-cohort study was performed between November 2019 and February 2020 in 4 English regional trauma networks as part of the Major Trauma Triage Study (MATTS). Consecutive patients with acute injury presenting to participating ambulance services were included, together with all reference standard positive cases, and matched to data from the English national major trauma database. The index test was prehospital provider triage decision making, with a positive result defined as patient transport with a pre-alert call to the MTC. The primary reference standard was a consensus definition of serious injury that would benefit from expedited major trauma centre care. Secondary analyses explored different reference standards and compared theoretical triage tool accuracy to real-life triage decisions.

RESULTS: The complete-case case-cohort sample consisted of 2,757 patients, including 959 primary reference standard positive patients. The prevalence of major trauma meeting the primary reference standard definition was 3.1% (n=54/1,722, 95% CI 2.3 - 4.0). Observed prehospital provider triage decisions demonstrated overall sensitivity of 46.7% (n=446/959, 95% CI 43.5-49.9) and specificity of 94.5% (n=1,703/1,798, 95% CI 93.4-95.6) for the primary reference standard. There was a clear trend of decreasing sensitivity and increasing specificity from younger to older age groups. Prehospital provider triage decisions commonly differed from the theoretical triage tool result, with ambulance service clinician judgement resulting in higher specificity.

CONCLUSIONS: Prehospital decision making for injured patients in English trauma networks demonstrated high specificity and low sensitivity, consistent with the targets for cost-effective triage defined in previous economic evaluations. Actual triage decisions differed from theoretical triage tool results, with a decreasing sensitivity and increasing specificity from younger to older ages.

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