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Errors on Death Certificates Requiring Amendments

The Broward County Experience

Fischtein, Danit MD, BScN, RN*†; Cina, Stephen J. MD‡§

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: April 13, 2011 - Volume Publish Ahead of Print - Issue - p
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e318219ff7f
Original Article: PDF Only

The Medical Examiner's Office in Broward County is responsible for determining the cause and manner of death in cases falling under its jurisdiction and issuing death certificates on these decedents. Amendments are occasionally required to correct misinformation on death certificates or within the autopsy reports. The purpose of this study was to investigate the major causes for the amendments and to develop strategies to avoid future errors. We found 128 cases from 2006 to 2007 that required amendments; 103 contained sufficient data in the file for further analysis. Over this period, 3790 death certificates were issued, resulting in a 3.37% amendment rate. In this study, the cohort included both males and females with a ratio of 2:1. Their ages ranged from newborn to 103 years with a mean age of 49 years. Of the 103 amended cases, amendments were made to the cause (n = 30) and often the manner (n = 21) of death listed on the death certificate; the remaining changes were limited to the autopsy report. The most common reasons for amendments included reception of delayed laboratory findings (35%), acquisition of additional medical history (22.5%), and typographic errors (15.5%). Typographic errors mainly occurred because of inaccuracies in the names originally provided to our office, the use of aliases by decedents, incorrect personal/demographic history, or various misspellings by funeral homes or medical examiner staff. The most significant reclassifications involved changing certified natural deaths to accidental overdoses and vice versa, based on toxicological analysis. Because of delays in specimen turnaround, these amendments often were made months after the original death certificate was issued. Stat urine drug screening has been helpful in reducing the number of amendments made, but certain drugs of significance are missed by rapid screens. Given that our office performed complete toxicological analysis on all cases over this period, it seems likely that we detected several overdoses that would have been missed if natural deaths were not routinely screened for potential toxins.

From the *Medical University of the Americas, Belize; †Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; ‡Broward County Medical Examiner's Office, Boca Raton; and §Department of Pathology, Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Manuscript received August 22, 2008; accepted September 18, 2009.

Reprints: Stephen J. Cina, MD, Broward County Medical Examiner's Office, 5301 SW 31st Ave, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315. E-mail:; or Danit Fischtein, MD, BScN, RN, 10864 King Bay Dr, Boca Raton, FL 33498. E-mail:

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