Laparoscopic cholecystectomy was introduced to Western Australia in 1991 and has become the method of choice for this procedure, although there are concerns about complications, particularly bile duct injuries. Previous studies have investigated this problem but have not confirmed the accuracy of coded information. We used Record Linkage to link operative admissions to subsequent admissions for all people who underwent cholecystectomy between 1988 and 1994. Using ICD9-CM discharge codes, we identified patients with an associated complication We validated these patients' medical notes to obtain the proportion of complications in the period encompassing the introduction of laparoscopic cholecystectomy. We found 48 bile duct injuries in 413 patients. Of these 43% were found using complication codes on the operative admission, 79% using linked records of subsequent admissions, and 90% by adding lists of complicated cases from the three teaching hospitals. Any epidemiological research that uses surgical complication codes from operative admissions, particularly in the absence of a specific ICD9CM code, will lead to significantly underestimating the prevalence of complications. By using record linkage, and validating medical records, we captured a significant proportion of complications. J CLIN EPIDEMIOL 52;9:893-901, 1999. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Inc.