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BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2009 Dec 1;9:48. doi: 10.1186/1472-6947-9-48.

Development of a validation algorithm for 'present on admission' flagging.

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Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health, School of Medicine, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.



The use of routine hospital data for understanding patterns of adverse outcomes has been limited in the past by the fact that pre-existing and post-admission conditions have been indistinguishable. The use of a 'Present on Admission' (or POA) indicator to distinguish pre-existing or co-morbid conditions from those arising during the episode of care has been advocated in the US for many years as a tool to support quality assurance activities and improve the accuracy of risk adjustment methodologies. The USA, Australia and Canada now all assign a flag to indicate the timing of onset of diagnoses. For quality improvement purposes, it is the 'not-POA' diagnoses (that is, those acquired in hospital) that are of interest.


Our objective was to develop an algorithm for assessing the validity of assignment of 'not-POA' flags. We undertook expert review of the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision, Australian Modification (ICD-10-AM) to identify conditions that could not be plausibly hospital-acquired. The resulting computer algorithm was tested against all diagnoses flagged as complications in the Victorian (Australia) Admitted Episodes Dataset, 2005/06. Measures reported include rates of appropriate assignment of the new Australian 'Condition Onset' flag by ICD chapter, and patterns of invalid flagging.


Of 18,418 diagnosis codes reviewed, 93.4% (n = 17,195) reflected agreement on status for flagging by at least 2 of 3 reviewers (including 64.4% unanimous agreement; Fleiss' Kappa: 0.61). In tests of the new algorithm, 96.14% of all hospital-acquired diagnosis codes flagged were found to be valid in the Victorian records analysed. A lower proportion of individual codes was judged to be acceptably flagged (76.2%), but this reflected a high proportion of codes used <5 times in the data set (789/1035 invalid codes).


An indicator variable about the timing of occurrence of diagnoses can greatly expand the use of routinely coded data for hospital quality improvement programmes. The data-cleaning instrument developed and tested here can help guide coding practice in those health systems considering this change in hospital coding. The algorithm embodies principles for development of coding standards and coder education that would result in improved data validity for routine use of non-POA information.

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