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Paintball Injury? Your Hospital Has A Code For That

Maybe, like me, you're one of the few who missed the recent report on injuries caused by BB and paintball guns that showed how often mishaps lead to emergency room visits. I'm surprised my mom didn't call me personally just to say she told me so.

Anyway, there are about 56 visits a day to emergency rooms around the country due to injuries from the guns, according to estimates compiled by the federal Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research. BB and pellet guns are the biggest problem, accounting for 97 percent of the more than 20,000 injuries in 2008. But paintball, too, can hurt, with bruises their No. 1 problem.

Kids sustain most of the injuries — 57 percent. Injury rates for air guns, but not paintball weapons, are higher in the South and rural areas. Overall, though, the ER visits declined about 20 percent between 2006 and 2008.

Now how in the world would people be able to figure this out? There are standardized diagnostic codes specific to these injuries. Really.

The AHRQ researchers used some nifty software to sift through medical data looking for case patterns. And that's possible because of an international system of diagnostic codes. In the U.S.,the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification, is the official rule book. The codes are used for research and billing, and, less often, blog posts.

So, with the right database, you could look for codes like these:

E922.4: Accident caused by firearm and air gun missile — air gun (BB gun, pellet gun)

E922.5: Accident caused by firearm and air gun missile — paintball gun

E968.6: Assault by air gun

E985.6: Injury by air gun, undetermined whether accident or on purpose

E985.7: Injury by paintball gun, undetermined whether accident or on purpose

But why stop there? There are even some wilder codes among the more than 13,000 in the ICD-9-CM. Scorpion bite? Yep. Centipede bite? Sure. Hurt by a spacecraft? Yep, it's in there, too: E845.0.

Now just because there's a code, doesn't mean it's ever been used, as the Wall Street Journal Health Blog reported a few years back. "Whether someone was injured [by a spacecraft] or not was immaterial because somebody thought, 'What If?' " Sheri Poe Bernard from the American Academy of Professional Coders told the blog.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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