Study objective: To determine the accuracy of the online Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for determining death outcomes.
Methods: We selected 30 patients who were determined to be dead and 90 patients thought to be alive after an ED visit as determined by a web-based searched of the SSDI. For those thought to be dead we requested death certificates. We then had a research coordinator blinded to the results of the SSDI search, complete direct follow-up by contacting the patients, family or primary care physicians to determine vital status. To determine the sensitivity and specificity of the SSDI for death at six months in this cohort, we used direct follow-up as the criterion reference and calculated 95% confidence intervals.
Results: Direct follow-up was completed for 90% (108 of 120) of the patients. For those patients 20 were determined to be dead and 88 alive. The dead were more likely to be male (57%) and older [(mean age 83.9 (95% CI 79.1 - 88.7) vs. 60.9 (95% CI 56.4 - 65.4) for those alive]. The sensitivity of the SSDI for those with completed direct follow-up was 100% (95% CI 91 -100%) with specificity of 100% (95% CI 98-100%). Of the 12 patients who were not able to be contacted through direct follow-up, the SSDI indicated that 10 were dead and two were alive.
Conclusions: SSDI is an accurate measure of death outcomes and appears to have the advantage of finding deaths among patients lost to follow-up.