Background: Studies comparing internally linked (person-identifying) and unlinked (episodes of care) hospital discharge data (HDD) on hip fractures have mainly focused on incidence overestimation by unlinked HDD, but little is known about the impact of overestimation on patient profiles such as comorbidity estimates. In view of the continuing use of unlinked HDD in hip fracture research and the desire to apply research results to hip fracture prevention, we concurrently assessed the accuracy of both incidence and comorbidity estimates derived from unlinked HDD compared to those estimated from internally linked HDD.
Methods: We analysed unlinked and internally linked HDD between 01 July 2005 and 30 June 2008, inclusive, from Victoria, Australia to estimate the incidence of hospital admission for fall-related hip fracture in community-dwelling older people aged 65+ years and determine the prevalence of comorbidity in patients. Community-dwelling status was defined as living in private residence, supported residential facilities or special accommodation but not in nursing homes. We defined internally linked HDD as the reference standard and calculated measures of accuracy of fall-related hip fracture incidence by unlinked HDD using standard definitions. The extent to which comorbidity prevalence estimates by unlinked HDD differed from those by the reference standard was assessed in absolute terms.
Results: The sensitivity and specificity of a standard approach for estimating fall-related hip fracture incidence using unlinked HDD (i.e. omitting records of in-hospital deaths, inter-hospital transfers and readmissions within 30 days of discharge) were 94.4% and 97.5%, respectively. The standard approach and its variants underestimated the prevalence of some comorbidities and altered their ranking. The use of more stringent selection criteria led to major improvements in all measures of accuracy as well as overall and specific comorbidity estimates.
Conclusions: This study strongly supports the use of linked rather than unlinked HDD in injury research. In health systems where linked HDD are unavailable, current approaches for identifying incident hip fractures may be enhanced by incorporating additional evidence-based criteria.