Identifying Vasopressor and Inotrope Use for Health Services Research

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Identifying vasopressor and inotrope (vasopressor) use from administrative claims data may provide an important resource to study the epidemiology of shock.


Determine accuracy of identifying vasopressor use using International Classification of Disease, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) coding.


Using administrative data enriched with pharmacy billing files (Premier, Inc., Charlotte, NC), we identified two cohorts: adult patients admitted with a diagnosis of sepsis from 2010 to 2013 or pulmonary embolism (PE) from 2008 to 2011. Vasopressor administration was obtained using pharmacy billing files (dopamine, dobutamine, epinephrine, milrinone, norepinephrine, phenylephrine, vasopressin) and compared with ICD-9-CM procedure code for vasopressor administration (00.17). We estimated performance characteristics of the ICD-9-CM code and compared patients' characteristics and mortality rates according to vasopressor identification method.

Measurements and Main Results:

Using either pharmacy data or the ICD-9-CM procedure code, 29% of 541,144 patients in the sepsis cohort and 5% of 81,588 patients in the PE cohort were identified as receiving a vasopressor. In the sepsis cohort, the ICD-9-CM procedure code had low sensitivity (9.4%; 95% confidence interval, 9.2-9.5), which increased over time. Results were similar in the PE cohort (sensitivity, 5.8%; 95% confidence interval, 5.1-6.6). The ICD-9-CM code exhibited high specificity in the sepsis (99.8%) and PE (100%) cohorts. However, patients identified as receiving vasopressors by ICD-9-CM code had significantly higher unadjusted in-hospital mortality, had more acute organ failures, and were more likely hospitalized in the Northeast and West.


The ICD-9-CM procedure code for vasopressor administration has low sensitivity and selects for higher severity of illness in studies of shock. Temporal changes in sensitivity would likely make longitudinal shock surveillance using ICD-9-CM inaccurate.

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