Targeting Non-obvious Errors in Death Certificates
Abstract: Mortality statistics are much used although their accuracy is often questioned. Producers of mortality statistics check for errors in death certification but current methods only capture obvious mistakes. This thesis investigates whether non-obvious errors can be found by linking death certificates to hospital discharge data.Data: 69,818 deaths in Sweden 1995. Paper I: Analysing differences between the underlying cause of death from the death certificate (UC) and the main discharge condition from the patient’s last hospitalization (MDC). Paper II: Testing whether differences can be explained by ICD definitions of UC and MDC. Paper III: Surveying methods in 44 current studies on the accuracy of death certificates. Paper IV: Checking death certificates against case summaries for: i) 573 deaths where UC and MDC were the same or the difference could be explained; ii) 562 deaths where the difference could not be explained.Results: In 54% of deaths the MDC differed from the UC. Almost two-thirds of the differences were medically compatible since the MDC might have developed as a complication of the UC. Of 44 recent evaluation studies, only 8 describe the methods in such detail that the study could be replicated. Incompatibility between MDC and UC indicates a four-fold risk that the death certificate is inaccurate. For some diagnostic groups, however, death certificates are often inaccurate even when the UC and MDC are compatible.Conclusion: Producers of official mortality statistics could reduce the number of non-obvious errors in the statistics by collecting additional information on incompatible deaths and on deaths in high-risk diagnostic groups. ICD conventions contribute to the quality problem since they presuppose that all deaths are due to a single underlying cause. However, in an ageing population an increasing number of deaths are due to an accumulation of etiologically unrelated conditions.
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