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Keywords:

  • accidental falls;
  • emergency service;
  • ambulatory care

Abstract. Objective: Unintentional falls are the leading cause of injury and the second most common cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States, and place a great burden on EDs. In this study, the objective was to describe the incidence and characteristics of ED visits associated with unintentional falls in the United States.

Methods: The authors performed a secondary analysis on data from the National Center for Health Statistics' National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey for 1992–1994. An ED visit was defined as fall-related if an ICD-9-CM cause of injury code was reported as E880.0–886.9 or E888.

Results: There were an estimated 7,946,000 fall-related ED visits per year, corresponding to an annual rate of 3.1 per 100 persons (95% CI = 2.8 to 3.4). Children under 5 years of age comprised the largest proportion of visits (14%). Among those visits coded with respect to place of occurrence, the rate of visits associated with falls occurring at home (1.7/100; 95% CI = 1.6 to 1.9) was significantly higher than that associated with falls occurring in all other locations combined (1.1/100; 95% CI = 1.0 to 1.2). The mean injury severity score increased significantly with the age of the patient. Fall-related ED visits resulted in an estimated 860,000 hospitalizations, 62% of which involved individuals aged 65 years and older. An estimated $2.45 billion per year was paid for fall-related ED visits. Government sources paid all or part of 41% of visits.

Conclusions: This study reports nationally representative data describing the incidence and characteristics of fall-related ED visits. These data expand what is known about the epidemiology of falls and help to define the burden that fall injuries place on EDs in the United States. The results of this study could serve as a benchmark to evaluate the effectiveness of future fall prevention efforts.