What Is a Death Certificate Worth?

Mom’s Cause of Death


How Accurate Are They?

In the U.S., death certificates are usually completed and signed or ‘certified’ by medical doctors. In some states, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants complete them. In Texas, a Justice of the Peace with no medical training can certify them. The information collected from a death certificate is electronically entered by state vital statistics staff, and then transmitted to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Causes of death and their contributing factors are then tallied in databases that help guide state and national lists we often see published like the CDC’s Leading Causes of Death.

Medical Care Injury Deaths Remain Elusive

The CDC doesn’t list medical care injuries in their leading causes of death. They are not listed anywhere in vital statistics death counts. And yet, multiple studies estimate their toll to be between 250,000 and 440,000 deaths per year, which would make them the third leading cause of death. Tragically, these deaths tend to get lumped into other causes like heart failure, cardiac arrest, respiratory failure and others. Just think of the implications this has.

  1. David Lind from Heartland Health Research Institute wrote a follow up blog post: https://hhri.net/author/david-lind/
  2. Panel Discussion Video: Health Tech Views and Voices: How is Cause of Death Death Data Colleted and Is It Trustworthy? sponsored by the Ethical, Legal & Social Issues Working Group of the American Medical Informatics Association https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw-drt8jSys


  1. A U.S. Standard Death Certificate from the CDC, 2003: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/death11-03final-acc.pdf



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