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Penetrating trauma in Ontario emergency departments: a population-based study

Macpherson AK, Schull MJ. CJEM. 2007; 9(1):16-20.

Background — There is a paucity of population-based research on health service utilization related to penetrating trauma in Canada, even though such trauma can result in serious injury or death, and gunshot wounds have been labelled the "the new public health issue." Complete epidemiologic data, including emergency department (ED) visits and hospitalizations, for penetrating trauma is not available. The objective of this paper is to describe the epidemiology of ED visits for firearm-related and knife-related penetrating trauma in one Canadian province.

Methods — All EDs in the province of Ontario (pop. approx. 12 400 000 at the time of the study) submit data on ED visits to the National Ambulatory Care Reporting System. This database includes patients' demographic information (i.e., age, sex and geographic area of residence), the reason for the visit, disposition (i.e., admitted to hospital or sent home), and other diagnostic information. For visits related to injuries, the cause of injury is also reported (e-codes according to the Canadian Enhancement to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th rev [ICD-10-CA]). All patients seen in Ontario EDs for an injury related to a firearm, knife, or sharp object, were included in our study.

Results — Of the 1.2 million ED visits in 2002-03 for trauma in Ontario, 40 240 (3.4%) patients were treated for injuries relating to penetrating trauma. Most patients were male, and most were 15-24 years of age. Penetrating trauma was frequently a result of knives or sharp objects (39 654 visits or 98.5%); only 1.5% (n = 586) of these injuries were caused by firearms. Of those hospitalized, 151 were related to firearms and 1455 were related to knives/ sharp objects.

Conclusions — Analyzing administrative data provides an estimate of the impact of penetrating trauma on a population, thereby providing prevention programs with data upon which to design their strategies. Evidence-based prevention strategies are needed to reduce the burden of penetrating trauma. Monitoring ED and hospitalization data over time will help to assess trends and provide evidence for the effectiveness of such strategies.

Keywords: Emergency department visits Trauma