Comparing hospital discharge records with death certificates: Can the differences be explained?

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Study objective: The quality of mortality statistics is important for epidemiological research. Considerable discrepancies have been reported between death certificates and corresponding hospital discharge records. This study examines whether differences between the death certificate's underlying cause of death and the main condition from the final hospital discharge record can be explained by differences in ICD selection procedures. The authors also discuss the implications of unexplained differences for mortality data quality. Design: Using ACME, a standard software for the selection of underlying cause of death, the compatibility between the underlying cause of death and the final main condition was examined. The study also investigates whether data available in the hospital discharge record, but not reported on the death certificate, influence the selection of the underlying cause of death. Setting: Swedish death certificates for 1995 were linked to the national hospital discharge register. The resulting database comprised 69 818 people who had been hospitalised during their final year of life. Main results: The underlying cause of death and the main condition differed at Basic Tabulation List level in 54% of the deaths. One third of the differences could not be explained by ICD selection procedures. Adding hospital discharge data changed the underlying cause in 11% of deaths. For some causes of death, including medical misadventures and accidental falls, the effect was substantial. Conclusion: Most differences between underlying cause of death and final main condition can be explained by differences in ICD selection procedures. Further research is needed to investigate whether unexplained differences indicate lower data quality.

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