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Hospital may become trauma unit

Northeast Georgia Medical Center collects data to reassess designation

POSTED: May 21, 2011 11:26 p.m.

It's been seven months since Northeast Georgia Medical Center started meticulously collecting data in its trauma department ranging from what kind of patients are seen to how long each step of the process takes.

Those numbers are now having an impact on the hospital floor, administrators say, where procedures are being streamlined in an effort to create a more focused trauma program.

"Before you had the data you might anecdotally know, well we think we had this many car crashes. We think we had this many patients from falls," said Deb Battle, who became manager of the hospital's new trauma program last year. "... But you don't have the database to show you what you're doing very well, where are your processes that you can improve on."

Data collection is also an important step if the hospital ever wants seek designation for its program in a state still struggling to address a widespread lack of trauma centers. There are currently no trauma centers from Hall County north and just 17 statewide; experts say 30 are needed.

A Northeast Georgia Medical Center study group recommended against becoming a trauma center in 2009 but the option hasn't been ruled out for the future. Administrators, though, are quick to note that much of trauma designation is a formality.

Northeast Georgia Medical Center, which has become the de facto trauma center for much of the northeastern part of the state, can treat a vast majority of trauma patients.

Designation, though, would legally allow the center to serve certain patients, such as those being airlifted who currently must travel to Grady Health System in Atlanta.

"Right now we do have patients form the community who end up getting airlifted and ambulanced to other trauma centers south of here, even for things that we could take care of here," trauma medical director Priscilla Strom said. "People like to be taken care of in their communities. It's certainly easier for their families to come visit them here."

But there are cons to designation, too, mainly the money it takes to staff a 24-hour trauma center.

Before the hospital re-enters discussions about designation, administrators want to continue addressing the trauma services it currently offers by analyzing data and formalizing procedures.

They're asking how long patients should be left in backboard braces or what the target time should be for getting someone through a CAT scan.

A specific trauma alert criteria, based off nationally-recognized procedures, was recently implemented to help EMS responders communicate patient needs to the hospital staff.

"If it's a gunshot wound to the chest, we want the team to jump on that patient when they hit the door," Battle said. "Whereas if you fall and you break your ankle, you can come in but you don't need the whole trauma team to meet you at the door."

Alone the changes seem miniscule, Strom said. But the differences are improving service and showing a dedication to trauma care that will make it possible for the hospital to apply for designation if it decides to in the future.

"We haven't found huge holes," Strom said. "It's trying to do what we've been doing but do it quicker, more efficiently, more cost effectively, the right people at the right place at the right time so patients get care in an expeditious manner as much as possible."

Administrators expect the question of designation to be addressed again in about a year.

 



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