Context: Surveillance data on nonfatal weapon-related injuries--particularly those treated only in the emergency department (ED)--have been largely unavailable.
Objective: To develop a surveillance system for fatal and nonfatal gunshot wounds and sharp instrument assaults.
Design: The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) developed an ED-based reporting system for weapon-related injuries. Inpatient discharges and mortality data were linked to ED data, and police data sources were evaluated.
Participants: All 84 acute care hospital emergency departments. Uniform Hospital Discharge Data Set (UHDDS), mortality, and police data were obtained from existing systems.
Main outcome measures: System sensitivity, predictive value positive (PVP), representativeness, flexibility, usefulness, acceptability, and sustainability.
Results: The ED reporting system captured 82% of firearm-related injuries and 74% of reportable sharp instrument wounds from 1994 to 1996. Case reporting by demographic characteristics of the victim was representative and largely complete. Reporting by characteristics of the incident (e.g., type of gun) was less reliable. Police data were used to augment the system. From 1994 to 1996, ED-treated gunshot wounds dropped 41%, from 662 in 1994 to 393 in 1996. Unintentional and self-inflicted gunshot wounds showed no declines. For every firearm-related homicide, 4.7 nonfatal firearm assaults were treated; 85% of self-inflicted gunshot wounds were fatal.
Conclusions: The system has proven timely (1996 ED data were available for release in March 1997), flexible (the reporting form has been revised several times), useful (DPH responds to 150 weapon injury data requests annually), acceptable (reporting is voluntary and no hospital declined participation), and sustainable (state funding is currently supporting the ED reporting system).