Lessons on Data Collection and Curation From the NFL Injury Surveillance Program

Nancy A. Dreyer, Christina D. Mack, Robert B. Anderson, Edward M. Wojtys, Elliott B. Hershman, Allen Sills

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Background: “Research-ready” evidence platforms that link sports data with anonymized electronic health records (EHRs) or other data are important tools for evaluating injury occurrence in response to changes in games, training, rules, and other factors. While there is agreement that high-quality data are essential, there is little evidence to guide data curation. Hypothesis: We hypothesized that an EHR used in the course of clinical care and curated for research readiness can provide a robust evidence platform. Our purpose was to describe the data curation used for active injury surveillance by the National Football League (NFL). Study Design: Dynamic cohort study. Level of Evidence: Level 2. Methods: Players provide informed consent for research activities through the collective bargaining process. A league-wide EHR is used to record injuries that come to the attention of the teams’ athletic trainers and physicians, NFL medical spotters, or unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants. Information about football activities and injuries are linkable by player, setting, and event to other sports-related data, including game statistics and game-day stadium quality measures, using a unique player identification designed to protect player privacy. Ongoing data curation is used to review data completeness and accuracy and is adjusted over time in response to findings. Results: The core data curation activities include monthly injury summaries to team staff, queries to resolve incomplete reporting, and periodic external checks. Experiences derived from producing more than 100 reports per year on diverse topics are used to update coding training and related guidance documents in response to missing data or inconsistent coding that is observed. Roughly 20% more injuries were recorded for the same “reportable” injuries after switching from targeted reporting to an EHR. Conclusion: Research-ready databases need systematic curation for quality and completeness, along with related action plans. More injuries were reported through EHR than through targeted reporting. Clinical Relevance: Evidence-driven decision-making thrives on reliable data fine-tuned through systematic use, review, and ongoing adjustments to the curation process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-445
Number of pages6
JournalSports Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • data curation
  • electronic health records
  • epidemiology surveillance
  • football


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