Death certification: is correct formulation of cause of death related to seniority or experience?

J R Coll Physicians Lond. 1995 Sep-Oct;29(5):424-8.


We looked at a series of death certificates completed by various grades of hospital clinicians, general practitioners (GPs) and pathologists. Specific error types were defined and identified in each group. In hospital it is still the pre-registration house officer who completes most of the death certificates. Senior hospital doctors make more errors than their juniors while GPs and pathologists make fewest errors. Even amongst pathologists 11% of certificates recorded no adequate underlying cause of death, 85.7% failed to record organisms identified and 76.7% failed to record the site or histological type of tumours. This agrees with other studies that show that inaccuracies in death certificates arise from inadequate formulation of cause of death and failure to record relevant information. It reveals that little heed has been paid to the recommendation in the joint report of the Royal College of Physicians and Pathologists that senior doctors should be more involved in certification--the frequency of errors in this group suggests that it might not, in any case, lead to a great improvement. The number or errors made by GPs and pathologists suggest that even practitioners with clinical experience and regular exposure to certification frequently make errors. The reasons for this are discussed and possible solutions proposed.

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death*
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Death Certificates*
  • England
  • Humans