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National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR)

Death Certificates
Vital statistics mortality data is based on the death certificate that records the circumstances of deaths—including the cause of death.

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  • The main purpose of these certificates is to record the outcome of the care received by the person who died.
  • Insurance companies use this information as the basis for paying benefits to the survivors.
    • The National Center for Health Statistics maintains a list of offices where these certificates are issued.
  • Justice authorities use them as the basis for decisions about the need for criminal investigation of the death.
  • Vital statisticians use these records to track diseases that lead to death.
    • For example, vital statistics analyses show the decline of tuberculosis deaths which are used as in indicator of the decline of the disease and its reduced impact on the population.
The reported trends depend on the consistent and valid recording of the causes of death and demographic information on the death certificates.

Because physicians certifying the cause of death are primarily focused on the administrative uses of the death certificate, health statisticians need to review their analyses to see if reporting decisions shaped the outcomes.

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