Death certification by house officers and general practitioners--practice and performance

J Public Health Med. 1993 Jun;15(2):192-201.


The objective of this study was to assess the knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of House Officers and General Practitioners (GPs) in relation to death certification, to determine the scope for future intervention. A postal questionnaire was used to survey all House Officers (174) and a 10 per cent random sample of GPs (131) in Mersey Region. The main outcome measures were: death certification experience; knowledge, attitudes and behaviour in relation to data uses and coding; and acceptability of Cause of Death statements. Response rates were comparable-119/174 House Officers (68.4 per cent) and 95/131 GPs (72.5 per cent). Most House Officers (78.8 per cent) and GPs (85.3 per cent) reported that they made the best possible Cause of Death statement but, respectively, 62.4 per cent and 59.3 per cent of these might modify a statement in some circumstances. Significantly more House Officers (70.3 per cent) than GPs (44.2 per cent) acknowledge room for improvement and were amenable to more training (86.6 per cent versus 52.5 per cent), but significantly fewer felt sufficiently instructed (23.7 per cent versus 52.6 per cent). Most respondents (> 90 per cent) considered accurate death certification important, but 46.2 per cent of House Officers had not read the death certificate book instructions. Knowledge was variable, especially concerning Underlying Cause of Death. Written Cause of Death statements were broadly similar in style and standard between groups. Experience did not appear to improve death certification practice. Better and co-ordinated undergraduate and early post-graduate education (which should be continuing and audited), and practical accessible guidance on death certificate completion, might improve standards of practice and performance within the existing framework. Alternative methods of presenting guidance on death certificate completion should be explored.

MeSH terms

  • Abstracting and Indexing
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Cause of Death
  • Death Certificates*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / standards
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / standards
  • England
  • Family Practice* / education
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital* / education
  • Medical Staff, Hospital* / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires