BACKGROUND Cause of death statistics are an important tool for quality control of the health care system. Their reliability, however, is controversial. Comparing death certificates with their corresponding medical records is implemented only occasionally but may point to quality problems. We aimed at exploring the agreement between information in the cause of death statistics and hospital discharge diagnoses at death.
METHODS Selection of disease categories was based on ICD-10 Tabulation List for Morbidity and ICD-10 Mortality Tabulation List 2. Index cases were defined as deaths having occurred among Swiss residents 2010-2012 in a hospital and successfully linked to the Swiss National Cohort. Rare, external and ill-defined causes were excluded from comparison, leaving 53,605 deaths from vital statistics and 47,311 deaths from hospital discharge statistics. For 95% of individuals, respective information from the 2000 census could be retrieved and used for multiple logistic regression.
RESULTS For 83% of individuals the underlying cause of death could be traced among hospital diagnoses and for 77% the principal hospital diagnosis among the cause of death information. Mirroring different evaluation of complex situations by individual physicians, rates of agreement varied widely depending on disease/cause of death, but were generally in line with similar studies. Multiple logistic regression revealed however significant variation in reporting that could not entirely be explained by age or cause of death of the deceased suggesting differential exploitation of available diagnosis information.
CONCLUSION Substantial regional variation and lower agreement rates among socially disadvantaged groups like single, less educated, or culturally less integrated persons suggest potential for improving reporting of diagnoses and causes of death by physicians in Switzerland. Studies of this kind should be regularly conducted as a quality monitoring.