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How children die: classifying child deaths

Abstract

Aim To validate a descriptive tool for the causes of child death, which was designed to circumvent problems posed by the analysis of a confidential enquiry.

Method 3 participants from different healthcare backgrounds used clinical data, including the entries on the medical certificate of the cause of death, to classify the root cause of 783 deaths from the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health child death review. A bespoke hierarchical system was used. Unanimity of allocation within categories and inter-rater and intra-rater agreement were assessed. Two methods for treating disagreements were compared by assessing their effect upon the apparent incidence of different causes of death.

Results The participants were most consistent in grouping deaths due to trauma, malignancy and sudden infant death. Each was highly consistent in allocating cases to groups (κ 0.85–0.99), but the agreement between participants, although “good”, was worse (κ 0.66–0.78). The greatest number of discrepancies was between diseases identified as congenital by the doctor and as chronic medical conditions by others. The method for treating disagreement between participants does not affect the commonest cause of death (trauma) but alters the ranking of the subordinate causes.

Conclusion Agreement within diagnostic categories might be improved by greater training of assessors in the use of the technique. This level of performance compares well with that of other coding systems upon their target groups.

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