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Comparison of vital statistics definitions of suicide against a coroner reference standard: a population-based linkage study

Gatov E, Kurdyak P, Sinyor M, Holder L, Schaffer A. Can J Psychiatry. 2018; 63(3):152-60. Epub 2017 Oct 23.


Objective — We sought to determine the utility of health administrative databases for population-based suicide surveillance, as these data are generally more accessible and more integrated with other data sources compared to coroners’ records.

Method — In this retrospective validation study, we identified all coroner-confirmed suicides between 2003 and 2012 in Ontario residents aged 21 and over and linked this information to Statistics Canada’s vital statistics data set. We examined the overlap between the underlying cause of death field and secondary causes of death using ICD-9 and ICD-10 codes for deliberate self-harm (i.e., suicide) and examined the sociodemographic and clinical characteristics of misclassified records.

Results — Among 10,153 linked deaths, there was a very high degree of overlap between records coded as deliberate self-harm in the vital statistics data set and coroner-confirmed suicides using both ICD-9 and ICD-10 definitions (96.88% and 96.84% sensitivity, respectively). This alignment steadily increased throughout the study period (from 95.9% to 98.8%). Other vital statistics diagnoses in primary fields included uncategorised signs and symptoms. Vital statistics records that were misclassified did not differ from valid records in terms of sociodemographic characteristics but were more likely to have had an unspecified place of injury on the death certificate (P < 0.001), more likely to have died at a health care facility (P < 0.001), to have had an autopsy (P = 0.002), and to have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital in the year preceding death (P = 0.03).

Conclusions — A high degree of concordance between vital statistics and coroner classification of suicide deaths suggests that health administrative data can reliably be used to identify suicide deaths.

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