Assessing quality of medical death certification: Concordance between gold standard diagnosis and underlying cause of death in selected Mexican hospitals

Popul Health Metr. 2011 Aug 4;9:38. doi: 10.1186/1478-7954-9-38.


Background: In Mexico, the vital registration system relies on information collected from death certificates to generate official mortality figures. Although the death certificate has high coverage across the country, there is little information regarding its validity. The objective of this study was to assess the concordance between the underlying cause of death in official statistics obtained from death certificates and a gold standard diagnosis of the same deaths derived from medical records of hospitals.

Methods: The study sample consisted of 1,589 deaths that occurred in 34 public hospitals in the Federal District and the state of Morelos, Mexico in 2009. Neonatal, child, and adult cases were selected for causes of death that included infectious diseases, noncommunicable diseases, and injuries. We compared the underlying cause of death, obtained from medical death certificates, against a gold standard diagnosis derived from a review of medical records developed by the Population Health Metrics Research Consortium. We used chance-corrected concordance and accuracy as metrics to evaluate the quality of performance of the death certificate.

Results: Analysis considering only the underlying cause of death resulted in a median chance-corrected concordance between the cause of death in medical death certificates versus the gold standard of 54.3% (95% uncertainty interval [UI]: 52.2, 55.6) for neonates, 38.5% (37.0, 40.0) for children, and 66.5% (65.9, 66.9) for adults. The accuracy resulting from the same analysis was 0.756 (0.747, 0.769) for neonates, 0.683 (0.663, 0.701) for children, and 0.780 (0.774, 0.785) for adults. Median chance-corrected concordance and accuracy increased when considering the mention of any cause of death in the death certificate, not just the underlying cause. Concordance varied substantially depending on cause of death, and accuracy varied depending on the true cause-specific mortality fraction composition.

Conclusions: Although we cannot generalize our conclusions to Mexico as a whole, the results demonstrate important problems with the quality of the main source of information for causes of death used by decision-makers in settings with highly technological vital registration systems. It is necessary to improve death certification procedures, especially in the case of child and neonatal deaths. This requires an important commitment from the health system and health institutions.