Background — Accurate identification of maternal deaths is paramount for audit and policy purposes. Our aim was to determine the accuracy and completeness of data on maternal deaths in hospital and those recorded on a death certificate, and the level of agreement between the 2 data sources.
Methods — We conducted a retrospective population-based study using data for Ontario, Canada, from Apr. 1, 2002, to Dec. 31, 2015. We used Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) databases to identify deaths during inpatient, emergency department and same-day surgery encounters. We captured Vital Statistics deaths in the Office of the Registrar General, Deaths (ORGD) data set. Deaths were considered within 42 days and within 365 days after a pregnancy outcome (live birth, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or induced abortion) for all multiple and singleton pregnancies. We calculated agreement statistics and 95% confidence intervals (CIs).
Results — Among 1 679 455 live births and stillbirths, 398 pregnancy-related deaths in the ORGD data set were mapped to a birth in CIHI databases, and 77 (16.2%) were not. Among 2 039 849 recognized pregnancies, 534 pregnancy-related deaths in the ORGD data set were linked to CIHI records, and 68 (11.3%) were not. Among live births and stillbirths, after pregnancy-related deaths in the ORGD data set not matched to a maternal death in the CIHI databases were removed, concordance measures between CIHI and ORGD records for maternal death within 42 days after delivery included a κ value of 0.87 (95% CI 0.82-0.91) and positive percent agreement of 0.88 (95% CI 0.83-0.94). The corresponding measures were similar for maternal death within 42 days after the end of a recognized pregnancy. When unlinked pregnancy-related deaths in the ORGD data set were retained, agreement measures declined for death within 42 days after a live birth or stillbirth (κ = 0.68, 95% CI 0.62-0.74). For maternal death within 365 days after a live birth or stillbirth, or after the end of a recognized pregnancy, the concordance statistics were generally favourable when unlinked pregnancy-related deaths in the ORGD data set were removed but were substantially declined when they were retained.
Interpretation — Maternal mortality cannot be ascertained solely with the use of hospital data, including beyond 42 days after the end of pregnancy. To improve linkage, we propose including health insurance numbers on provincial and territorial medical death certificates.
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