Coding improvements to blame for uptick in fatal falls in the elderly, study finds

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More accurate coding and reporting could be the reason behind a recent spike of fall-related deaths in the elderly, new research finds.

Rates of fatal falls jumped 42% between 2000 and 2006, according to Johns Hopkins researchers, who said they were surprised to see such a spike.

Their suspicion is that, prior to implementation of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) in 1999, deaths following a minor fall often were classified by the illness or complication that resulted from the injury, such as pneumonia. The jump in fall-related deaths after ICD-10's debut was immediate, researchers said, and is likely a better reflection of what is happening in the senior population.

"In fact, it's likely that for some time we've been under-reporting just how many older Americans die as a result of a fall, a hypothesis supported by international comparisons,” Susan P. Baker, MPH, of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, said.

The study was published in the May-June issue of Public Health Reports.