How To Report Cause Of Death

Physician's Responsibilities

The physician's primary responsibility in death registration is pronouncing the death and, when he or she is the attending physician, reporting cause of death. The medical part of the certificate includes:

  • Date and time pronounced dead.
  • Date and time of death.
  • Question on whether the case was referred to the medical examiner or coroner.
  • Cause-of-death section including cause of death, manner of death, tobacco use, and females' pregnancy status items.
  • Injury items for cases involving injuries.
  • Certifier section with signatures.

In most cases, a physician will both pronounce death and certify or report the cause of death.

A different physician will pronounce death only when the attending physician is unavailable to certify the cause of death at the time of death and if State law provides for this option.

Preparation of Death Certificate

Death certificates are permanent legal records from which official copies are made. It is essential that the certificate be prepared accurately.

Completing a death certificate involves the following guidelines

  • File electronically using EDRS (Electronic Death Registration System).
  • Complete each item, following the specific instructions for that item.
  • Do not use abbreviations except those recommended in the specific item instructions.
  • Verify with the informant the spelling of names, especially those that have different spellings for the same sound (Smith or Smyth, Gail or Gayle, Wolf or Wolfe, and so forth).
  • Refer problems not covered in these instructions to the State office of vital statistics or to the local registrar.
  • Electronically sign cause of death.

Most States require that the death certificate be completed and filed within a specified time period. Physicians are expected to use medical training, knowledge of medicine, available medical history, symptoms, diagnostic tests, and autopsy results, if available, to determine the cause of death.

Documents for reporting Cause of Death

Completing a Cause-of-Death Statement: Basic Concepts (DOH 422-154)(PDF)

Guideline- Completion of Death Certificates (DOH 422-134)(PDF)

Pneumonia Without an Underlying Cause-of-Death (422-152)(PDF)

Reporting Causes of Death for the Elderly (DOH 422-153)(PDF)

CDC's Physician's Handbook on Medical Certification of Death (PDF)

Websites with information about Cause-of-Death Certification

New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Online training on improving cause of death reporting

National Center for Health Statistics
Instructions, hand books, and more information about writing cause-of-death statements

National Association of Medical Examiners