Following Sunday's mass shooting in Orlando, the president of the American College of Emergency Physicians called for more data on injuries and improved emergency response measures to better treat victims of gun violence.
In an exclusive interview Monday with Modern Healthcare, Dr. Jay Kaplan said that as the incidence of mass shootings persists in the U.S., first responders must collaborate to develop processes that share and analyze data learned from treating victims of mass shootings.
Currently, most disaster preparedness plans at hospitals involve treating victims of blunt trauma, such as injuries from car accidents, Kaplan said. But the rising incidence of terrorism in the U.S. and the country's own gun violence call for more information regarding wound patterns and causes of death for victims of mass shootings.
“We need to better understand how to take care of these patients,” Kaplan said. “The battlefield has been brought to our communities.”
Most of those injured Sunday were sent to Orlando Regional Medical Center, the region's only Level 1 trauma center, which is just blocks away from the scene of the massacre. Level 1 trauma centers are equipped with staff and services to treat victims of mass casualties.
The hospital said many survivors had "multiple high-velocity" gunshot wounds.
The gunman in the shooting used an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a handgun to open fire inside a crowded night club.
Kaplan said most emergency rooms are prepared to handle one or two gunshot victims at a given time, but when the victims reach numbers as high as 15 or 44, as they did in Orlando, emergency rooms don't always have the tools they need.
Orlando Regional, which was placed on lockdown after the shootings, tweeted that no patients had to be transferred to other treatment centers. "This is something we have been planning for over 20 years, and unfortunately it occurred,” hospital staff tweeted.
The hospital began to take in victims soon after the shooting began early Sunday morning. Dr. Chadwick Smith was the surgeon on-call, and upon hearing of the number of casualties, called five more surgeons. All of them arrived at the hospital within an hour.
In January, the ACEP implemented a task force to study how injuries from firearms impact civilians. Kaplan noted that casualties from combat zones have been evaluated and researched, but the same has not been done in civilian settings. He said more research and understanding of how firearm injuries affect patients can save more lives by sparking innovation and more specialized planning.
The ACEP's High Threat Emergency Casualty Task Force will collaborate with researchers and public policy experts to develop data, and the ACEP will eventually create evidence-based guidelines. The task force will also work with fire departments, emergency medical services and law enforcement personnel to share best practices.
"At this moment, when we feel powerless, we must focus on learning from this tragedy to improve our response in the future," Kaplan said.
Orlando Regional hospital officials said Monday that they are "very optimistic" that the nightclub shooting victims being treated will recover and that they no longer need to give "major amounts of blood" to them.
The hospital holds weekly trauma simulations, along with periodic large-scale, citywide simulations. Officials say the training left the hospital well-prepared for mass casualties.
The trauma medical director, Dr. Joseph Ibrahim, said the only thing he would change is that more victims could have gotten to the hospital sooner so that that they could have saved more people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.