Open Access Open Badges Research article

Regional and temporal variations in coding of hospital diagnoses referring to upper gastrointestinal and oesophageal bleeding in Germany

Ingo Langner*, Rafael Mikolajczyk and Edeltraut Garbe

Author Affiliations

Bremen Institute for Prevention Research and Social Medicine, Bremen University, Achterstraße 30, D-28359 Bremen, Germany

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BMC Health Services Research 2011, 11:193  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-11-193

Published: 17 August 2011



Health insurance claims data are increasingly used for health services research in Germany. Hospital diagnoses in these data are coded according to the International Classification of Diseases, German modification (ICD-10-GM). Due to the historical division into West and East Germany, different coding practices might persist in both former parts. Additionally, the introduction of Diagnosis Related Groups (DRGs) in Germany in 2003/2004 might have changed the coding. The aim of this study was to investigate regional and temporal variations in coding of hospitalisation diagnoses in Germany.


We analysed hospitalisation diagnoses for oesophageal bleeding (OB) and upper gastrointestinal bleeding (UGIB) from the official German Hospital Statistics provided by the Federal Statistical Office. Bleeding diagnoses were classified as "specific" (origin of bleeding provided) or "unspecific" (origin of bleeding not provided) coding. We studied regional (former East versus West Germany) differences in incidence of hospitalisations with specific or unspecific coding for OB and UGIB and temporal variations between 2000 and 2005. For each year, incidence ratios of hospitalisations for former East versus West Germany were estimated with log-linear regression models adjusting for age, gender and population density.


Significant differences in specific and unspecific coding between East and West Germany and over time were found for both, OB and UGIB hospitalisation diagnoses, respectively. For example in 2002, incidence ratios of hospitalisations for East versus West Germany were 1.24 (95% CI 1.16-1.32) for specific and 0.67 (95% CI 0.60-0.74) for unspecific OB diagnoses and 1.43 (95% CI 1.36-1.51) for specific and 0.83 (95% CI 0.80-0.87) for unspecific UGIB. Regional differences nearly disappeared and time trends were less marked when using combined specific and unspecific diagnoses of OB or UGIB, respectively.


During the study period, there were substantial regional and temporal variations in the coding of OB and UGIB diagnoses in hospitalised patients. Possible explanations for the observed regional variations are different coding preferences, further influenced by changes in coding and reimbursement rules. Analysing groups of diagnoses including specific and unspecific codes reduces the influence of varying coding practices.