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  Vol. 20, No. 23  Previous Table of Contents Home  Next December 15, 1998 

National Attention Reveals Typical "ER" Day at Ben Taub

On November 20, 1998, from noon until midnight, Internet viewers from around the world visited the Harris County Hospital District's Ben Taub General Hospital via a live webcast. The landmark 12-hour event called "Trauma Center Live" was broadcast by America's Health Network as part of an educational series of live webcasts. Many viewers, perhaps using past and present television drama shows as reference, may have expected to see medical teams constantly rushing patients with gun shot wounds on stretchers down hospital corridors. It didn't happen.

"First of all," says Bill Adams, Ben Taub's administrator, "there is no such thing here as an 'ER' as in emergency room. We operate an integrated emergency center, commonly referred to as the Ben Taub EC." Dr. Ken Mattox, Ben Taub Hospital chief of staff, adds, "And we don't have medical teams racing stretchers down the hall. The fact is our patients are assessed quickly by a triage nurse and, if necessary, then wheeled no more than 20 feet to one of our five shock rooms for treatment. After the webcast we hope more people have a better understanding of a real-life EC and an appreciation of the suddenness of traumatic episodic cases that we treat over the course of a day."

The 12-hour view of Ben Taub's Emergency Center may have also dispelled the notion that most injuries seen in the EC are violence related. In fact, according to a just-released statistical report from Ben Taub, of the 328 patients who were treated over a 24-hour period on November 20, only 7 were aggravated assault victims and there were no gun shot or stabbing victims. Judy Keys, who maintains the Hospital District's Emergency Center statistics, says, "As it turned out, the number of patients seen and chief complaints heard on Friday the 20th represented an average day. An examination of the statistical data collected by Keys shows that motor vehicle accidents brought the most trauma patients to Ben Taub's EC that day. There were 31 motor vehicle accident injuries, 4 auto-pedestrian injuries and 2 motorcycle injuries.

Priority one or shock room trauma patients numbered 105. The remaining 233 patients had complaints or symptoms listed in 49 categories such as abrasion, bleeding, weakness or seizure.

The Ben Taub EC statistical report also reveals in its mechanism of injury category that second to the motor vehicle accident group, 21 patients were treated due to falls. From there the number dropped to 12 intentional intestinal problems - drug overdose or suicide attempts - and 7 assault victims.

During the past six months Ben Taub General Hospital has averaged 302 daily EC visits; among that number have been an average of 19 auto accidents, 15 psychiatric patients (Ben Taub has the city's only emergency psychiatric unit), 13 falls, 8 assaults, 6 overdoses and 1 gun shot victim per day.

The Ben Taub Emergency Center was chosen for the live webcast because it's one of the busiest in the nation and because of its reputation of excellence.

- LARRY JOHNSON

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