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Trauma vs. ER Graphic

All hospitals care for many types of injuries and emergency conditions ranging from minor to severe, but not all hospitals are designated as a Trauma Center. When a patient is in need of emergency assistance, they will be taken to the hospital’s Emergency Room (ER). Here, emergency physicians will assess whether these patients in critical condition should be treated by specialists in Emergency Medicine or by specialists in the Trauma Center. Emergency Medicine typically addresses broader, non-life threatening injuries such as broken bones, minor burns or injuries that may require stitches. 

Trauma Care

Trauma care teams treat patients that have critical injuries threatening life or limbs. These severely injured patients often require multi-disciplinary, comprehensive emergency medical services. Trauma surgeons have advanced training in procedures of a critical and invasive nature. There are certain criteria to follow and triage guidelines that identify the more seriously injured patients. Trauma units have the resources and expertise to handle more extreme cases where immediate survival is a concern.

Physicians and surgeons at Penn's Level 1 Trauma Center see patients with the following types of injuries:

  • Injuries related to traumatic car crashes
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Blunt force trauma
  • Gun shot and stab wounds
  • Serious burns
  • Serious falls

Emergency Room

An Emergency Room treats many common conditions ranging from minor, non-life threatening injuries to possible heart attacks and strokes. The training for Emergency Medicine differs from Trauma because it typically encompasses a broader spectrum of emergency conditions.

Physicians and surgeons in Emergency Medicine see patients with the following types of injuries or conditions:

  • Broken bones
  • Chest pains
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Minor burns
  • Minor lacerations requiring stitches
  • Severe abdominal pain/ vomiting/ diarrhea
  • Sprains
  • Signs of a heart attack
  • Signs of a stroke
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