Preventable Trauma Deaths Climb Nationwide

Paramedics with a patient
Paramedics with a patient | Image by SORN340 Studio Images/Shutterstock

A silent epidemic of bleeding out has been taking place in the United States for decades, according to experts.

Preventable deaths caused by uncontrolled bleeding following a traumatic injury have been climbing, with medical authorities calling for changes to first responder interventions. Namely, medical authorities want first responders to be able to administer blood to hemorrhaging patients prior to arriving at the hospital.

“It’s like a coin flip whether [hemorrhaging patients] survive or not because they’re so far into the process of dying,” said Dr. Zaffer Qasim, a critical care physician with the University of Pennsylvania Health System, according to The Dallas Morning News. “Sometimes you just can’t reverse it, no matter how fast you are once they get to the hospital.”

A two-year joint investigation conducted by the DMN and the San Antonio Express-News found that the deaths of dozens of Texans each day from hemorrhaging blood after gunshot wounds, car collisions, and more could have been prevented.

Equipping military medical personnel with blood nearly two decades ago led to a dramatic decrease in troop mortality rates from traumatic injury between 2005 and 2013.

Yet the route to making blood transfusions standard practice for civilian ambulance services has been plagued with difficulty. Of the more than 23,000 emergency medical teams operating nationwide today, roughly 100 ground ambulances carry blood products. Although most air ambulances do, they treat considerably fewer trauma patients.

Research into traumatic injuries has been scant. In 2018, the National Institutes of Health injected less than 2% of its budget into traumatic injury research, or approximately $639 million.

Federal tax dollars are mostly directed toward investigating cancer and heart disease — two leading causes of death among Americans growing in prevalence alongside soaring obesity rates, as extensively covered by The Dallas Express. Obesity is among the leading causes of preventable death in the U.S., second only to smoking.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that traumatic injury is the leading cause of death among Americans under age 45.

In terms of public policy, medical authorities have raised the issue of offering better emergency care for traumatically injured Americans since the 1960s. One congressional report in 2015 found that the nation’s emergency healthcare systems lacked funds and federal oversight, estimating that approximately 200,000 to 300,000 preventable deaths had occurred over a 10-year period as a result.

Yet medical experts have invariably failed to garner attention and surmount the considerable obstacle of making federal agencies work together — and thus assume responsibility — to limit preventable trauma deaths.

“No level of government below the White House has the leverage to achieve this level of collaboration, and thereby to avert needless deaths and disability due to suboptimal trauma care,” the 2015 report stated, per the DMN.

Medical experts have been increasingly vocal, trying to bring public attention and awareness to the bleeding-out epidemic that is causing approximately 31,000 unnecessary deaths each year nationwide.

“It’s like having nine 9/11s every year,” said Dr. Philip Spinella, who studies trauma-related bleeding at the University of Pittsburgh, according to the DMN. “And we’re doing nothing about it.”

However, there may be some changes on the horizon. Dallas Fire-Rescue is rolling out a pilot prehospital blood transfusion program together with Parkland Health next year in hot spots for traumatic injuries. Although it will depend largely on the blood supply available, the program might put a dent in traumatic injury deaths.

“We see this as another way that we could potentially save more lives,” said Dr. S. Marshal Isaacs, Dallas Fire-Rescue’s medical director, according to the DMN.

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