Introduction: Injuries inflict the largest health impact on military populations in terms of hospitalization. Hospitalized injuries result in the largest direct costs of medical care and the most lost workdays, include the largest proportion of disabling injuries, and have the largest impact on troop readiness. Efforts are now beginning to focus on how injury surveillance data can be used to reduce the burden of injuries. This article examines the value of administrative hospital discharge databases in the military for routine injury surveillance, as well as investigation of specific injury problems, including musculoskeletal conditions that are frequently sequelae of old injuries.
Methods: Data on hospitalizations for injuries and musculoskeletal conditions were obtained from separate administrative agencies for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Since 1989, a Standard Inpatient Data Record (SIDR) has been used to ensure uniformity in data collection across the services utilizing standard ICD-9 codes. Cause of injury was coded using special military cause codes (STANAG codes) developed by NATO. Data were analyzed on both nature and cause of injury. Denominator data on troop strength were obtained from the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC).
Results: Hospital records data indicate that injuries and musculoskeletal conditions have a bigger impact on the health of service members and military/combat readiness than any other ICD-9 Principal Diagnostic Group (higher incidence and higher noneffective rate or days not available for duty). Hospitalization rates for injury appeared to decline for all services from 1980 to 1992. In 1992, service-specific injury hospitalization rates per 1000 person-years were 15.6 for the Army, 8.3 for the Navy (enlisted only), and 7.7 for the Air Force, while the corresponding hospitalization rate for musculoskeletal conditions was higher in all three services: 28.1, 9.7, and 12.0, respectively.
Conclusions: Military hospital discharge databases are an important source of information on severe injuries and are more comprehensive than civilian databases. They include detailed injury information that can be useful for injury prevention and surveillance purposes. Specifically, it can be used to identify high-risk groups or hazards for targeting prevention resources. These may vary widely by service, rank, and job tasks. Hospital discharge data can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions for reducing injury rates. Recommendations were submitted to further improve data collection and the use of hospital data for research and injury prevention.