Treatments and tests

Trauma

What is physical trauma?

Physical trauma is defined as a body wound produced by sudden physical injury from impact, violence or accident.

Road traffic accidents involving motor vehicles, motorbikes and pedestrians are the most common causes of trauma requiring hospital admission into intensive care in Australia.

Who is a trauma patient?

A trauma patient is a person who has suffered a physical injury which may be minor, serious, life-threatening or potentially life-threatening.

Trauma injuries are usually categorised as a blunt or penetrating wound.

Are there different levels of physical trauma?

The severity of trauma is classified according to the injury type, physical location of the injury and how many injuries there are.

If a person has many (multi-trauma) and/or severe injuries this would classify as a major trauma.

Major and multi-trauma patients can experience serious complications including:

  • haemorrhage – losing large amounts of blood can result in shock and other complications
  • infection or sepsis – the presence of open wounds increases risk of infection
  • multi-organ failure – when one or more organs, such as kidneys or liver, begin to stop working.

Do all hospitals treat physical trauma patients?

Ambulance paramedics or air rescue services are often first to respond to trauma emergencies. They provide care at the scene of an accident and during the transfer of the patient to hospital.

While all major hospitals with emergency departments are equipped to admit trauma patients, some larger tertiary hospitals have dedicated trauma centres and specialise in treating adults or children (paediatric) trauma patients with particular injuries, such as spinal or burns injuries.

The decision made to take a patient to a specific hospital is based on:

  • the distance to hospital from the patient
  • injury type
  • whether they are an adult or child.

What happens when a trauma patient arrives at hospital?

When a trauma patient arrives at hospital, a specialist emergency triage nurse will assess their injuries.

Patients with life-threatening or potentially life-threatening injuries are transferred and treated in intensive care unit (ICU) or dedicated trauma unit. Some ICU beds are reserved exclusively for trauma patients.

Visiting a trauma patient

Hospitals have visitor policies in place to ensure the wellbeing of their patients. You will need to ask hospital staff about visiting hours and requirements.

Visiting is usually restricted to people the patient considers to be immediate family.

Behaviour

Emergency departments and trauma wards are busy, highly intense environments. 

Common courtesy is expected and violence, threats or verbal abuse towards other people will not be tolerated.

A hospital code of conduct exists to ensure a safe and friendly environment for patients, staff and visitors.

Valuables

Despite security and efforts by staff, hospitals are busy places and theft happens.

It is best for an immediate family member to look after a patient’s valuables such as money, credit cards, jewellery and mobile phones if they can’t be kept secure.

Mobile phones

Mobile phones should be turned off or only used in allocated areas as they may interfere with medical equipment.

Smoking

All hospitals and premises owned by WA Health are smoke free. Staff, patients, visitors, contractors and volunteers are not permitted to smoke in WA Health hospitals, community health centres, office buildings, grounds, car parks or vehicles.

Patient and family support services

Depending on the hospital, the following support services may be offered to trauma patients and their families.

Counselling

If you or someone you care about experiences serious physical trauma it can have a huge emotional impact on your life and your family.

Many hospitals provide different types of counselling services for patients and their families – some may offer counsellors experienced in trauma, others may offer dedicated trauma clinical psychology services.

Pastoral care

For many people, emotional and spiritual thoughts tend to surface when someone they care about is in a critical condition in hospital. 

Many hospitals provide chaplaincy and pastoral counselling services for patients, families and staff who need compassionate, professional and spiritual guidance and support. 

Interpreter service

An interpreter service is available for patients and families if English is not their first language.

These interpreters are specifically trained to interpret medical terms into other languages.

It is important that you use this service if you are having problems understanding doctors explaining information or are being asked to provide consent for medical procedures.

Speak to hospital staff if you would like to access interpreting services.

Patient costs

Your costs will depend on the procedures you need, time spent in hospital and the specialised care you require.

For an Australian patient in a public hospital in Western Australia there is no cost to you unless advised otherwise.

More information

Translating and Interpreter Service

Where to get help

  • In a medical emergency dial triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
  • Attend the emergency department of your nearest hospital.

Remember

  • Trauma patients are treated at hospital emergency departments, intensive care units (ICU) and dedicated trauma centres.
  • The majority of trauma injuries are caused by road traffic incidents involving cars, motorbikes and pedestrians.
  • Ambulance paramedics or air rescue services are often first to respond to trauma emergencies.

Acknowledgements

State Trauma Office, Royal Perth Hospital

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