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Causes of Death on Death Certificates Often Incorrect

Posted Monday, December 17, 2018 by Morgan Cartwright

Studies from various states show that somewhere between 30-50% of death certificates list incorrect causes of death. The cause is a result of inadequate processes, training, and/or insufficient information. Unfortunately, many medical associations rely on death certificates for data on causes of death in areas to project and promote certain health guidelines. With such a large number of listed incorrect causes of death, there appears to be a significant possible problem with the underlying data.

The most common cause of death is heart disease, but this doesn’t always tell the whole picture. Many times, patients have underlying conditions that may not show up in the physical examination. Sometimes the patient passes away at a hospital that has no prior medical records to tell the hospital about the patient’s medical history.

In reality, determining causes of death is “part art, part science”, because it often requires a deeper understanding of everything that happened leading up to the death. With anything, you may gain a better understanding over time but many of those who write the death certificate are residents who are still learning the medical conditions.

Furthermore, the death certificates don’t always have the ability to enter the details of the death that are needed to describe the full situation, and instead require residents to conform to limited options. For all these reasons, the causes of death on death certificates should be viewed with this understanding.

A Whopping 1 in 3 Death Certificates list Wrong Cause of Death

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