The purpose of this paper is to document and explain the way in which ABS causes of death statistics (particularly external causes of death) are produced, provide advice to users of causes of death data about some current quality issues concerning external causes of death, and assist in interpreting the data. Data on external causes of death are used for injury surveillance and to support the development of policy for disease and injury prevention.
The term 'external causes' is used to describe deaths where the underlying cause of death is determined to be one of a group of causes external to the body (for example suicide, transport accidents, falls, poisoning etc). These are distinct from natural causes of death generally resulting from disease (for example diabetes, cancer, heart disease etc.). Deaths that are classified as external causes are in most cases reported to coroners for investigation. Approximately 80% of deaths from external causes are certified by a coroner.
Statistics on causes of death are a by-product of the administrative process by which registrars of births, deaths and marriages register all life events accurately and securely for all time, ensuring their integrity and confidentiality. The collection, processing, compilation and dissemination of causes of death statistics is the joint responsibility of various stakeholders. The quality of the statistics depends on each of the many steps involved in the collection and processing of the data, and these steps may be subject to change over time.
It is important to be aware of the issues explored in this paper when using causes of death statistics. They include the way in which the data may fluctuate from year to year, differences between jurisdictions in the practices of registrars and coroners, the impact of incomplete information on coding, and the importance of understanding the metadata associated with other data sources when comparing them with ABS causes of death data.