J Clin Pathol 55:499-502
  • Original article

Analysis of the sensitivity of death certificates in 440 hospital deaths: a comparison with necropsy findings

  1. J D Sington1,
  2. B J Cottrell2
  1. 1Department of Cellular Pathology, Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP27 9JJ, UK
  2. 2Department of Histopathology, Box 235, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QQ, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J D Sington, Department of Cellular Pathology, Stoke Manderville Hospital, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP27 9JJ, UK;
  • Accepted 31 May 2001


Background: There is current heightened public interest in issues surrounding death certification and necropsy. The present study was initiated to determine the accuracy of death certification in providing a correct diagnosis in a series of adult deaths occurring in hospital, all of which were followed by a necropsy.

Method: We examined a series of 440 consecutive adult hospital necropsies performed at Addenbrooke's Hospital, without prior knowledge of the cause of death on the death certificate. The major causes of death at necropsy were subdivided on the basis of organ systems and subsequently compared with the cause of death stated on the death certificate.

Results: There were 448 stated causes of death on the death certificates, compared with 508 causes recorded at necropsy. The overall sensitivity of the death certificate in predicting an individual cause of death was 0.47, with sensitivities ranging from 0.90 in the neurological system to 0.28 in the cardiovascular system, and the sensitivity for all malignant causes of death was 0.65. No significant overall differences were noted in respiratory, gastrointestinal, malignant, and “other” systems when comparing causes of death on the death certificate with those at necropsy.

Conclusions: There is a substantial discrepancy between the diagnosis given on death certificates compared with that at hospital necropsy. This paper discusses the importance of clinicopathological concordance and emphasises the importance of the necropsy in death certification.