Research Article| Volume 54, ISSUE 2, P461-468, February 2023

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Development of a unified national trauma center database, 2018

Published:November 28, 2022DOI:


      • There is no single unified certification system for trauma centers in the United States, rather multiple distinct systems.
      • The criteria used for the same trauma “level” is different between certification systems, leading to discrepancies in certifications.
      • We established a unified trauma center database for the United States and made data available to researchers and the public via our app, findERnow.



      Trauma center certifications across the United States (U.S.) are not unified. Participation in the national trauma certification program established through the American College of Surgeons (ACS) is not universal, and many states maintain unique trauma certification systems with varying criteria. We investigated degree of similarity between the ACS national trauma certification program and state trauma certifications, then combined these distinct certifications into a unified national trauma center database.


      We performed a cross-sectional study of all non-specialty, non-federal emergency U.S. departments (EDs) open in 2018 to determine availability and levels of trauma centers. We created a “Standard” definition of trauma levels using ACS criteria as a benchmark. ACS similar trauma levels were then assigned to state levels I-III by comparing trauma receiving protocol, maximum response times, and general surgical coverage; through this process, levels across distinct systems established through different criteria were standardized.


      In 2018, ACS certifications spanned 47 states and DC; 3 states did not participate in ACS (Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Washington). A distinct, non-ACS state certification system was present in 47 states and DC; 3 states had no ongoing state certification system in 2018 (Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont). Among 5,514 US EDs open in 2018, we identified 2,132 associated with adult and pediatric trauma centers (39%) holding certification (ACS, state, or both); 1,083 (51%) were certified levels I-III, and the rest (1,049, 49%) were levels IV-V. Of the 1,083 centers with any level I-III certification, 498 (46%) held ACS certification, and 1,059 (98%) held state certification. Applying ACS-similar criteria to centers with state levels I-III (n=1,059) resulted in a level change for 124 centers (12%). Using our “Standard” definition of a trauma level based on ACS criteria, our unified level I-III database included 959 (89%) adult and pediatric centers, with 24 (3%) ACS-certified only, 461 (48%) state-certified only, and 474 (49%) certified by both.


      Discrepancies exist between ACS and state trauma certification systems. The differences in level I-III state criteria confirm discrepant standards for a given trauma “level” across the U.S. We combined these certifications into a unified national trauma center database available to researchers and the public.



      United States ((U.S.)), emergency medical technician ((EMT)), emergency department ((ED)), American College of Surgeons’ Verification Review and Consultation ((ACS)), National Emergency Department Inventory ((NEDI)-USA), Pediatric Emergency Care Coordinator ((PECC)), Critical Access Hospital ((CAH)), American Trauma Society ((ATS)), American Hospital Association ((AHA))
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