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J Public Health Policy. 2012 May;33(2):202-14. doi: 10.1057/jphp.2012.6. Epub 2012 Feb 23.

National trends and coding patterns in fall-related mortality among the elderly in the United States.

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Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI 53226, USA.


Because good information on deaths caused by a fall would be important for prevention policies, we analyzed the influence of coding differences on variability in state-level fall death rates in the elderly. We examined state differences in the number of cause of death codes on death certificates, death certifiers, completeness of E-coding, and indicators of specificity of coding. We found that state-specific fall mortality rates ranged from 13.9 to 140.4 in people aged 65 years and above. States employing a coroner to investigate injury deaths had 14 per cent fewer recorded fall deaths than those where a medical examiner conducted the investigations. Each unit increase in the median number of cause of death codes was associated with a 10 per cent increase in the number of falls. For each 1 per cent increase in the use of unspecified codes for the underlying cause of death, the number of falls dropped by 2 per cent. Current fall mortality data do not appear to identify all instances of falls. Variability in unintentional fall-related death rates among states may be partly explained by death certification coding practices. Standardization of coding and training for documentation of fall events and death certificate reporting could help uncover the actual fall mortality burden in the elderly.

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