What they didn’t teach in medical school: Part 7 How to fill out a death certificate

Possibly more confronting that being called by a nurse to actually go and review the person who has just died and having to check for vital signs in front of a family is then needing to go and complete the certificate of death documentation. Nobody taught me this in medical school and like all good forms often the fields don’t make sense.

As this post, Quantified Death, in the Health Care Blog points out, because doctors aren’t trained to fill out death certificates a lot of the data about why people died is nonsense. ‘Brain failure’, ‘full body organ failure’, ‘old age’ really don’t count as a cause of death.

Doctors need to be taught how to complete death certificates but it is also not just a matter of completing the form correctly for the sake of data collection. Perhaps underpinning the problem is our own failure to really understand why and how people die. This needs to be discussed more at medical school. A case in point when I discuss Not for Resuscitation orders with patients and their families I no longer refer to attempting resuscitation when their heart and lungs stop working – I simply refer to the person dying.

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