Combat injury coding: A review and reconfiguration

Mary M. Lawnick, Howard R. Champion, Thomas Gennarelli, Michael R. Galarneau, Edwin D'Souza, Ross R. Vickers, Vern Wing, Brian J. Eastridge, Lee Ann Young, Judy Dye, Mary Ann Spott, Donald H. Jenkins, John Holcomb, Lorne H. Blackbourne, James R. Ficke, Ellen J. Kalin, Stephen Flaherty

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: The current civilian Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS), designed for automobile crash injuries, yields important information about civilian injuries. It has been recognized for some time, however, that both the AIS and AIS-based scores such as the Injury Severity Score (ISS) are inadequate for describing penetrating injuries, especially those sustained in combat. Existing injury coding systems do not adequately describe (they actually exclude) combat injuries such as the devastating multi-mechanistic injuries resulting from attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). METHODS: After quantifying the inapplicability of current coding systems, the Military Combat Injury Scale (MCIS), which includes injury descriptors that accurately characterize combat anatomic injury, and the Military Functional Incapacity Scale (MFIS), which indicates immediate tactical functional impairment, were developed by a large tri-service military and civilian group of combat trauma subject-matter experts. Assignment of MCIS severity levels was based on urgency, level of care needed, and risk of death from each individual injury. The MFIS was developed based on the casualty's ability to shoot, move, and communicate, and comprises four levels ranging from Able to continue mission to Lost to military. Separate functional impairments were identified for injuries aboard ship. Preliminary evaluation of MCIS discrimination, calibration, and casualty disposition was performed on 992 combat-injured patients using two modeling processes. RESULTS: Based on combat casualty data, the MCIS is a new, simpler, comprehensive severity scale with 269 codes (vs. 1999 in AIS) that specifically characterize and distinguish the many unique injuries encountered in combat. The MCIS integrates with the MFIS, which associates immediate combat functional impairment with minor and moderate-severity injuries. Predictive validation on combat datasets shows improved performance over AIS-based tools in addition to improved face, construct, and content validity and coding inter-rater reliability. Thus, the MCIS has greater relevance, accuracy, and precision for many military-specific applications. CONCLUSION: Over a period of several years, the Military Combat Injury Scale and Military Functional Incapacity Scale were developed, tested and validated by teams of civilian and tri-service military expertise. MCIS shows significant promise in documenting the nature, severity and complexity of modern combat injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)573-581
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Combat
  • impairment
  • injury severity scoring
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Combat injury coding: A review and reconfiguration'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this