Out-of-Hospital COVID-19 Deaths: Consequences for Quality of Medical Care and Accuracy of Cause of Death Coding

Am J Public Health. 2021 Jul;111(S2):S101-S106. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2021.306428.


Objectives. To examine age and temporal trends in the proportion of COVID-19 deaths occurring out of hospital or in the emergency department and the proportion of all noninjury deaths assigned ill-defined causes in 2020. Methods. We analyzed newly released (March 2021) provisional COVID-19 death tabulations for the entire United States. Results. Children (younger than 18 years) were most likely (30.5%) and elders aged 64 to 74 years were least likely (10.4%) to die out of hospital or in the emergency department. In parallel, among all noninjury deaths, younger people had the highest proportions coded to symptoms, signs, and ill-defined conditions, and percentage symptoms, signs, and ill-defined conditions increased from 2019 to 2020 in all age-race/ethnicity groups. The majority of young COVID-19 decedents were racial/ethnic minorities. Conclusions. The high proportions of all noninjury deaths among children, adolescents, and young adults that were coded to ill-defined causes in 2020 suggest that some COVID-19 deaths were missed because of systemic failures in timely access to medical care for vulnerable young people. Public Health Implications. Increasing both availability of and access to the best hospital care for young people severely ill with COVID-19 will save lives and improve case fatality rates.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / mortality*
  • Cause of Death
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Coding / standards*
  • Forms and Records Control / standards*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / standards*
  • Quality Control
  • Sex Distribution
  • United States
  • Young Adult