Principles and Pitfalls: a Guide to Death Certification

Clin Med Res. 2015 Jun;13(2):74-82; quiz 83-4. doi: 10.3121/cmr.2015.1276.


Death certificates serve the critical functions of providing documentation for legal/administrative purposes and vital statistics for epidemiologic/health policy purposes. In order to satisfy these functions, it is important that death certificates be filled out completely, accurately, and promptly. The high error rate in death certification has been documented in multiple prior studies, as has the effectiveness of educational training interventions at mitigating errors. The following guide to death certification is intended to illustrate some basic principles and common pitfalls in electronic death registration with the goal of improving death certification accuracy.

Keywords: Cause of death; Death certification; Death record; Electronic death registration; Manner of death.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death
  • Death Certificates*
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control
  • Medical Records Systems, Computerized
  • Registries
  • United States
  • Vital Statistics