A methodology for the public health surveillance and epidemiologic analysis of outdoor falls that require an emergency medical services response

Andrew G. Rundle*, Remle P. Crowe, Henry E. Wang, Alexander X. Lo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Falls are a common cause of injury with significantly associated medical costs yet public health surveillance of injuries from falls is underdeveloped. In addition, the epidemiologic understanding of outdoor falls, which have been reported to account for 47% of all injurious falls, is scant. Here we present methods to use emergency medical services (EMS) data as a public health surveillance tool for fall injuries, including those that occur secondary to syncope and heat illness, with a focus on the scope and epidemiology of outdoor fall injuries. Methods: Using the 2019 National Emergency Medical Services Information System (NEMSIS) data, we developed an approach to identify EMS encounters for fall injuries, syncope and heat illness. NEMSIS variables used in our algorithm included the EMS respondent’s impression of the encounter, the reported major symptoms and the cause of injury. With these data we identified injuries from falls and, using the NEMSIS data on the location of the encounter, we identified fall injuries as occurring indoors or outdoors. We present the descriptive epidemiology of the identified patients. Results: There were 1,854,909 injuries from falls that required an EMS response identified in the NEMSIS data, with 4% of those injuries secondary to episodes of syncope (n = 73,126) and heat illness. Sufficient data were available from 94% of injurious falls that they could be assigned to indoor or outdoor locations, with 9% of these fall injuries occurring outdoors. Among fall injuries identified as occurring outdoors, 85% occurred on streets and sidewalks. Patient age was the primary sociodemographic characteristic that varied by location of the injurious fall. Sixty-six percent of fall injuries that occurred indoors were among those age 65 years or older, while this figure was 34% for fall injuries occurring outdoors on a street or sidewalk. Conclusion: The occurrence of outdoor fall injuries identified in the NEMSIS data were substantially lower than reported in other data sets. However, numerically fall injuries occurring outdoors represent a substantial public health burden. The strengths and weaknesses of using this approach for routine public health surveillance of injuries from falls, syncope and heat illness are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4
JournalInjury Epidemiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Falls
  • Injury
  • Outdoor falls
  • Surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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