SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - Modern medical technology has greatly improved our chances of living longer and healthier, and it has vastly increased the accuracy of physicians' diagnoses in the emergency room. But after all the CT scans, MRIs and ultrasound machines, in the end it's a simple blood test that might give doctors the best overall glimpse into a trauma patient's outlook, a new study said Wednesday.
Intermountain Medical Center conducted a study of nearly 10,000 trauma patients over a six-year period to determine whether blood analysis was a good indicator of their long-term prognosis. Researchers say, the simple answer is: Yes, it is.
Doctors at the hospital have already been using an analysis tool called the Intermountain Risk Score (IRS) -- which uses a combination of factors like age, blood count, and gender -- to determine patients' mortality rates. However, this helpful tool has never been used on trauma patients to determine their health risk. Doctors have already known the benefits of the IRS for heart disease patients or cancer patients, for example, but this is the first time they have used it to gauge long-term survival for emergency room patients -- cases for which the primary concern is typically in the short term.
"As surgeons, we don't often use all of the [blood work] in evaluating a patient who needs surgery for a bleeding spleen or after a motor vehicle accident," said Dr. Sarah Majercik, MD, of Intermountain Medical Center. "These factors are generally overlooked, even though they are part of the [blood work] that every trauma patient gets when he or she arrives in the emergency room."
The IRS analysis allows doctors to categorize patients in terms of risk, the study said. For example, surgeons may use the test and classify a car accident victim in the "high risk" category, and then use it to establish a stabbing victim in the "low risk" zone. The research concluded that some trauma patients are substantially more likely to die than others -- regardless of the severity of their injuries.
"The results are very surprising," said Dr. Majercik.
The study found that high risk men are 58 times more likely to die within a year than low risk men. Males with a moderate risk were 13 times more likely to die in that time span. Alternately, high risk women were 19 times more likely to die within a year than low risk women.
For example, aside from their obvious injuries, a trauma patient might appear to be completely healthy. But if the IRS tool uncovers irregularities in the blood, that patient's chances of dying increase substantially, the study said.
"It's a standard part of the CBC (complete blood count) test, but it's not usually taken into consideration when treating a (trauma) patient with injuries," said Dr. Benjamin Horne, PhD, a primary contributor to the study. "Based on the findings of our research, it's something that should be looked at as part of the care plan model."
Doctors believe this new research will give medical professionals a simple and fast way to evaluate their patients' conditions in the ER, and could lead to new treatment procedures that reduces the risk of death -- especially since blood analysis is already done for patients arriving at the emergency room anyway.
Dr. Majercik will present the findings of the study at the 27th annual Scientific Session of the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma this week in Phoenix.