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Improving Cause of Death Reporting: A National Approach

Gretchen Van Wye, Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Vital Statistics, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Information about what causes death, when it occurs, and to whom certain causes of death occur more often provides the foundation of our country's understanding of the health conditions that impact Americans. We know that as Vital Records and Statistics Offices, and research documents it, as well. Cause of death is one of the oldest, most representative, and most widely used sources of public health data.

Even though completing cause of death on death certificates is a requirement of physicians, there is no means to ensure that the principles of completing cause of death accurately and completely are learned.

In New York City we have conducted extensive trainings to medical residents at NYC hospitals on completion of cause of death. However, this approach is short-lived, resource-intensive, and helpful only locally. We know that each of our jurisdictions faces similar challenges.

Given these concerns, we in NYC would like to seek a national solution. There are a number of different ways we are considering to approach this issue, specifically by proposing ways to influence the training requirements for the doctors who complete death certificates.

If you are interested in exploring this idea with us – or have some thoughts on how we might work together – please contact me at or 646-632-6747.

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