Background: Flow disruptions (FDs) are deviations from the progression of care that compromise safety or efficiency. The frequency and specific causes of FDs remain poorly documented in trauma care. We undertook this study to identify and quantify the rate of FDs during various phases of trauma care. Methods: Seven trained observers studied a Level I trauma center over 2 months. Observers recorded details on FDs using a validated Tablet-PC data collection tool during various phases of care - trauma bay, imaging, operating room (OR) - and recorded work-system variables including breakdowns in communication and coordination, environmental distractions, equipment issues, and patient factors. Results: Researchers observed 86 trauma cases including 72 low-level and 14 high-level activations. Altogether, 1,759 FDs were recorded (20.4/case). High-level trauma comprised a significantly higher number (p = 0.0003) and rate of FDs (p = 0.0158) than low-level trauma. Across the three phases of trauma care, there was a significant effect on FD number (p < 0.0001) and FD rate (p = 0.0005), with the highest in the OR, followed by computed tomography. The highest rates of FD per case and per hour were related to breakdowns in coordination. Conclusions: This study is the largest direct observational study of the trauma process conducted to date. Complexities associated with the critical patient who arrives in the trauma bay lead to a high prevalence of disruptions related to breakdowns in coordination, communication, equipment issues, and environmental factors. Prospective observation allows individual hospitals to identify and analyze these systemic deficiencies. Appropriate interventions can then be evaluated to streamline the care provided to trauma patients.
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