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Cost-Effectiveness of Field Trauma Triage among Injured Adults Served by Emergency Medical Services



The American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma sets national targets for the accuracy of field trauma triage at ≥95% sensitivity and ≥65% specificity, yet the cost-effectiveness of realizing these goals is unknown. We evaluated the cost-effectiveness of current field trauma triage practices compared with triage strategies consistent with the national targets.

Study design

This was a cost-effectiveness analysis using data from 79,937 injured adults transported by 48 emergency medical services agencies to 105 trauma and nontrauma hospitals in 6 regions of the western United States from 2006 through 2008. Incremental differences in survival, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), costs, and the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (costs per QALY gained) were estimated for each triage strategy during a 1-year and lifetime horizon using a decision analytic Markov model. We considered an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio threshold of <$100,000 to be cost-effective.


For these 6 regions, a high-sensitivity triage strategy consistent with national trauma policy (sensitivity 98.6%, specificity 17.1%) would cost $1,317,333 per QALY gained, and current triage practices (sensitivity 87.2%, specificity 64.0%) cost $88,000 per QALY gained, compared with a moderate sensitivity strategy (sensitivity 71.2%, specificity 66.5%). Refining emergency medical services transport patterns by triage status improved cost-effectiveness. At the trauma-system level, a high-sensitivity triage strategy would save 3.7 additional lives per year at a 1-year cost of $8.78 million, and a moderate sensitivity approach would cost 5.2 additional lives and save $781,616 each year.


A high-sensitivity approach to field triage consistent with national trauma policy is not cost-effective. The most cost-effective approach to field triage appears closely tied to triage specificity and adherence to triage-based emergency medical services transport practices.

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