Message from the BC Vital Statistics Agency regarding death certification

The British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency (VSA) is asking medical practitioners to review its instructional handbook, Medical Certification of Death and Stillbirth—A Handbook for Physicians, Nurse Practitioners and Coroners, developed as a reference to assist in completing death and stillbirth certification.

Internationally, mortality certification is based on standardized World Health Organization (WHO) tabulation conventions. 

Mortality data is used locally and in cross-jurisdictional epidemiological analyses for monitoring public health status, evaluating health interventions, planning and follow up of health care at the provincial level, and by Statistics Canada. It also contributes to robust clinical and academic research.

British Columbia is fortunate to have an internationally-recognized comprehensive collection of administrative health data including hospitalizations and other institutional care, home care, emergency department use, pharmaceutical use, etc. 

Accurate and detailed mortality data comprises the end point with which to complete individuals’ clinical and social histories, and as such is critically important for health surveillance and research purposes. VSA is appreciative of practitioners’ assistance in providing comprehensive details regarding the circumstances leading to a person’s death. 

Some physicians may have received follow-up letters from the VSA Medical Coding Unit to clarify clinical events and conditions leading to death. These letters are sent to ensure provincial mortality data is as accurate and complete as possible.

In an attempt to minimize the burden on practitioners in responding to these letters, the handbook is designed to facilitate certifiers’ understanding of WHO death certification procedures and will act as a guide in the task of comprehensive death certification. 

Medical Certification of Death and Stillbirth—A Handbook for Physicians, Nurse Practitioners and Coroners can be accessed here.