Pediatric Trauma: Number One Killer of Children in the United States

hudsonGuest post from Representative Richard Hudson (R-N.C.)
Member, House Energy and Commerce Committee and
Co-Chair of the Pediatric Trauma Caucus

Pediatric trauma is the number one killer of children in the United States. One person dies from an injury every three minutes in the United States. Because children have significant anatomical and physiological differences from adults, specific knowledge is required to diagnose and manage pediatric patients.

According to the National Safety Council, unintentional injuries sustained in one year will have a lifetime cost exceeding $794 billion. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently released a report saying the total cost of injuries in the United States was $671 billion in 2013, and the cost from children aged 1-18 is around $30 billion. This does not take into account the emotional toll of the loss of a loved one on a family and community.

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Neurosurgeon Dr. Shelly D. Timmons (3rd from left) participates at the Pediatric Trauma Caucus briefing on injuries in sports.

There are two primary ways to address trauma: prevention and post-injury care. Prevention takes the form of education and safety measures such as seat belts, air bags, back-up car cameras, smoke/CO2 detectors, helmets and controlled substances education. Increasing preventative measures has greatly reduced death tolls from traumatic injuries. For example, seat belts have saved an estimated 225,000 lives between 1975 and 2008, but accidents will continue to be inevitable so it is critical to maintain a robust trauma care system.

Post-injury care is what we think of when we picture trauma treatment at hospitals. It is a system of progressive access to graduated care centers that accelerate the likelihood of survival and prevention of permanent disabilities.

pediatric-trauma-infographicEmergency medicine practitioners, including neurosurgeons, refer to “the golden hour” as the time during which there is the highest likelihood that prompt medical treatment will prevent death or permanent disability after a traumatic injury. If a child reaches a certified trauma center within the first hour after injury, they have a 25 percent greater chance of survival. Twenty percent of children in the United States, however, live in areas that are more than an hour away from a trauma center.

Despite these systemic deficiencies, there has been insufficient attention paid to this epidemic by the federal government. This is why, with Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I have commissioned a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to identify areas of the country with access issues, best practices for hospitals and trauma centers in treating pediatric patients, and the differences in care between the distinct systems of care in our country.

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Rep. Hudson speaking at the Pediatric Trauma Caucus briefing on 9/21/16.

Additionally, I have convened with my colleague from North Carolina and the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), a bipartisan working group of members of Congress that will explore policy solutions to the pediatric trauma epidemic in our country. This working group, called the Pediatric Trauma Caucus, will also educate members of Congress and their staff about the pediatric trauma epidemic as we explore specific policy solutions. Kicked off in May at a briefing held in conjunction with the Energy and Commerce, the Pediatric Trauma Caucus will hold events throughout the year on specific issues within the system of care for pediatric trauma patients.

Workable solutions are urgently needed to address the epidemic rate at which children are dying from traumatic injuries. Our children are our most important assets and it is vital that we provide them with best care. My colleagues and I remain committed to finding ways to improve our trauma care systems and reduce the alarming number of pediatric deaths each year from trauma injuries.

Editor’s Note: During the month of September, we encourage everyone to join the conversation online by using the hashtag #ConcussionFacts. For more information on this topic, read organized neurosurgery’s Background Paper entitled, “Pediatric Trauma in the United States: Challenges of Ensuring Adequate Trauma Care for the Pediatric Patient.”

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