Objective: To determine location, manner, and physician certifier of pediatric deaths.
Design: A descriptive study of death certificate information for all child deaths (aged birth through 17 years) for the years 1995 and 1996.
Setting: Urban county of more than 780,000 population.
Main outcome measures: Field of specialty of physician certifiers, location of death, and category of deaths certified by the medical examiner.
Results: Of 361 child deaths, 42.6% were certified by the medical examiner, 24.1% by neonatologists, 10.0% by obstetricians, 8.0% by pediatric critical care specialists, and 5.3% by general pediatricians. The remaining deaths were certified by pediatric subspecialists, surgeons, family practitioners, emergency medicine specialists, hospital pathologists, and law enforcement officials. The medical examiner certified deaths due to trauma (64.5%), sudden infant death syndrome (13.5%), unexplained or suspicious causes (9.7%), medical or surgical complications (3.9%), or because no other physician certifier was available (5.8%). Most children were pronounced dead at hospitals, but 10.0% died at home, 4.4% on roads, and 2.5% on public or private lands.
Conclusions: General pediatricians are unlikely to be directly involved in the care of most children who die and are therefore unlikely to sign the death certificate. Education about death and dying issues should be available for all pediatricians but should be directed at those specialists most likely to provide care during critical events. Support services for families need to be community based and accessible to survivors.