The accuracy of death certificate completion in a suburban community

Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2010 Sep;31(3):232-5. doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e3181e5e0e2.


Background: Death certificates provide epidemiologists and other researchers with statistical data regarding causes of death within the community. When the certificates are filled out erroneously they provide misleading and inaccurate information. The aim of our investigation was to determine whether these certificates are being completed correctly by clinicians, how frequently errors are occurring, and what types of errors are being committed by the physicians in our county.

Methods: A total of 371 consecutive death certificates issued by community physicians from Broward County between February 2007 and March 2007 were reviewed. Errors were grouped into major categories as follows: unacceptable cause of death (UC), nonspecific cause of death, irrelevant information, incorrect order, and incorrectly completed.

Results: About 48% of death certificates were found to have at least 1 of the 5 types of errors in the cause of death section. These were unacceptable cause errors 30.2%, non-specific errors 14.8%, incorrectly completed errors 6.5%, irrelevant information errors 4.0%, and incorrect order errors 3.5%.

Discussion/conclusions: Nearly half of all death certificates reviewed in this study were found to be inaccurate. Using the results of this study, the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office has been able to tailor new physician education programs for the community.

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death*
  • Death Certificates*
  • Documentation / standards*
  • Florida
  • Forms and Records Control / standards
  • Humans
  • Physicians
  • Quality Control*
  • Suburban Population