Accurate and timely data on cause of death are critically important for guiding health programs and policies. Deaths certified by doctors are implicitly considered to be reliable and accurate, yet the quality of information provided in the international Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) usually varies according to the personnel involved in certification, the diagnostic capacity of the hospital, and the category of hospitals. There are no published studies that have analysed how certifying doctors in Bangladesh adhere to international rules when completing the MCCD or have assessed the quality of clinical record keeping.
The study took place between January 2011 and April 2014 in the Chandpur and Comilla districts of Bangladesh. We introduced the international MCCD to all study hospitals. Trained project physicians assigned an underlying cause of death, assessed the quality of the death certificate, and reported the degree of certainty of the medical records provided for a given cause. We examined the frequency of common errors in completing the MCCD, the leading causes of in-hospital deaths, and the degree of certainty in the cause of death data.
The study included 4914 death certificates. 72.9% of medical records were of too poor quality to assign a cause of death, with little difference by age, hospital, and cause of death. 95.6% of death certificates did not indicate the time interval between onset and death, 31.6% required a change in sequence, 13.9% required to include a new diagnosis, 50.7% used abbreviations, 41.5% used multiple causes per line, and 33.2% used an ill-defined condition as the underlying cause of death. 99.1% of death certificates had at least one error. The leading cause of death among adults was stroke (15.8%), among children was pneumonia (31.7%), and among neonates was birth asphyxia (52.8%).
Physicians in Bangladeshi hospitals had difficulties in completing the MCCD correctly. Physicians routinely made errors in death certification practices and medical record quality was poor. There is an urgent need to improve death certification practices and the quality of hospital data in Bangladesh if these data are to be useful for policy.