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Debugging Trauma Care

By Rod Graham

For much of her career, Ellen MacKenzie, PhD, has tracked the outcomes of traumatic injuries and studied the workings of trauma centers—hospitals that have the equipment and expertise to handle the most gravely injured patients. She got an earful from her surgeon friends after Sept. 11.

"The trauma surgeons I spoke with in New York worried that even though they were well prepared, they would have been utterly swamped if things had turned out well [and there had been] many more survivors," says MacKenzie, a professor of Health Policy and Management and director of the School's Center for Injury Research and Policy.

Although not focused specifically on bioterrorism, much of MacKenzie's research is, in fact, aimed at streamlining disaster relief efforts. She and her colleagues, for instance, have been analyzing emergency triage decisions to pinpoint exactly which injuries pose the greatest threat of death or future disability. "We are also investigating whether a person with a particular injury who is sent to a trauma center fares better than another person with the exact same injury who ends up at a regular hospital," she says.

Another problem many of the New York surgeons noticed: the lack of communication among hospitals and between hospitals and the broader public health system. As it happens, MacKenzie and her colleagues are working with the American Trauma Society to compile a complete inventory of U.S. trauma centers, with an eye toward linking them up via the Internet and an electronic newsletter.