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ER vs. Trauma Center — What’s The Difference?

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  • Written By: Dallas Medical Center

When something tragic occurs, your first thought may be to go to an emergency room — but not all are created equal. Different hospitals might have different titles and names for different specialties, often leaving patients confused or merely uneducated on what they offer. At Dallas Medical, we’re proud to be designated as a Level IV Trauma Center by the Texas Department of State Health — but what does that mean for our patients?

You might have heard of the term “trauma center,” but do you know what truly sets it apart from a standard emergency room? Understanding what makes a trauma center unique from your general emergency room could be a matter of life or death.

While it all depends on the circumstances you are under, paramedics are often trained to evaluate your condition and can make the decision on where you should head. A lot is in the names though.

What is a Trauma Center?

Just like your typical emergency room, a trauma center is generally located within a hospital, in the emergency department. A trauma center is equipped to deal with severe and more life-threatening conditions, and the technicians are highly trained in traumatic injuries. From trauma surgeons to a radiologist, the staff is always prepared to treat any patient that has experienced a traumatic incident.

What is an Emergency Room?

Emergency rooms are where you go for emergency assistance. An emergency room is equipped with nurses and doctors who are trained to deal with a variety of issues such as signs of a heart attack, fainting, or possible broken limbs.

Go to an Emergency Room if You Experience or Have:

Broken Bones. If you experience bruising, loss of function or numbness of a limb, and you suspect it could be broken, you will want to head to an ER.
Fainting. If you’ve suddenly fainted or at some point had loss of consciousness, an ER visit is best.
A Heart Attack or Stroke. If you feel like you might be having a heart attack, the ER is more than qualified to deal with it.
Minor Burns. First and second-degree burns that cover a larger area or that is over a joint requires an emergency room visit.
Stomach Issues. If you experience severe pains, blood in your vomit or stool, or have experienced diarrhea or vomiting for a few days and could be dehydrated, you should head to the ER.

Go To a Trauma Center if You Experience or Have:

Stab or Gunshot Wounds. If you have a severe gunshot wound, stab, or other life-threatening injuries, an ambulance will head straight to a trauma center.
Major Burns. Severe burns that cover most the body, or require skin grafts need to be treated immediately, with the expertise of the trauma center.
A Severe Brain Injury. Any brain injuries that could have lasting after-effects are something better equipped for a trauma center.
Traumatic Car Crash Injuries. If you experience a regular fender bender and have some minor broken bones, scrapes or aches and pains, you’ll most likely be taken to the ER. If you wind up with more severe injuries, this is when a trauma center will take over.

Basic Trauma Center Requirements

Now that you know the fundamental differences between an emergency room and a trauma center, it’s vital that you understand what is required of a trauma center. For starters, all trauma centers are required to be accredited by an independent organization. Trauma centers are also acknowledged by levels, and there are five in the United States. State requirements for each degree and accreditations vary, and some states, don’t even acknowledge the fifth level.

Trauma Center Levels

The levels are ranked by the care provided, teaching capabilities, and more. LeveI I is the highest of levels and is a trauma center that often provides total care, from the prevention stage to rehabilitation. There are also opportunities for medical residents to participate in a teaching program and ongoing research. A Level IV can provide trauma care, but often patients might have to be transferred to a higher-level center for rehabilitation.

Each level reflects what exactly is offered at each hospital, and the slight difference can be all it takes to set you a level apart. As a level IV Trauma Center, Dallas Medical Center is allowed to stabilize all significant and severe trauma patients 24/7.

So What are some of the main differences between each level?

Level I
: Provides total care for all aspects of an injury along with public education.
Level II: Initiates definitive care for all injured patients, continuous education for staff, and quality assessment program.
Level III: Demonstrates an ability to provide assessments, surgery, intensive care, and continuing educations.
Level IV: An ability to provide advanced trauma life support. For higher levels of trauma, patients will be transferred.
Level V: Initial evaluation, stabilization, and diagnostic care. They prepare patients to be transferred to higher levels of care.

When it comes to a traumatic injury, timing is everything. That is why having a reliable trauma center in your area is key. At Dallas Medical Center, we are proud to be the closest accredited Level IV trauma center in the area. Our full-service ER and trauma center is always open.