What Is Trauma Triage?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2019
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Trauma triage is a form of medical analysis by which emergency personnel are able to more easily identify if patients are in need of specialized trauma care or standard medical assistance. There are a number of guidelines that can be utilized in administering this type of triage, and different criteria can be used for younger individuals. This is similar to other forms of triage that focus on categorizing injured people based on the immediacy of their need for medical attention. Trauma triage, however, does not focus on immediacy of care, but instead is used to determine if someone requires trauma care or not.

While different countries and emergency agencies can utilize different guidelines for administering trauma triage, in the US, there are fairly simple guidelines that can be used. These guidelines are often provided to emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and ambulance drivers, so they can more easily determine where a patient should be taken. Federal guidelines in the US are established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and individual emergency departments often follow these guidelines. While specific situations such as military combat and natural disasters can call for other forms of triage, trauma triage is typically used on an individual basis.


The first consideration in trauma triage is typically the physical nature of the individual, with respect to physiological responses. If someone is visibly in shock, for example, and has an abnormally high pulse rate or significantly decreased blood pressure, then he or she may require trauma attention. Someone demonstrating a very low or very high respiration rate, or someone intubated to maintain open airways, also often receives trauma care. Trauma triage also considers head injuries, including those that result in coma, and spinal injuries for evaluating a need for trauma care.

Apparent injuries are also typically used in trauma triage. Someone with severe penetrative injuries to the body or extremities or who has suffered traumatic amputation may also require trauma attention rather than medical attention at a standard emergency facility. The way in which a person has been injured can also be utilized in consideration of trauma assistance, and those who have been struck by a motor vehicle, been severely burned, or fallen from a great distance may all require trauma care.

Trauma triage can also utilize separate scales for juveniles and adults. In the US, for example, juveniles under the age of 16 are often evaluated on a separate scale based on different physiological parameters for children. Once trauma treatment is established as necessary, patients are typically transported to facilities with specialized trauma care. This often ensures greater success in treatment, since such facilities can supply services that standard emergency rooms may not be equipped to provide.


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