AIMS: The usefulness of mortality statistics relies on the validity of death certificate diagnosis. However, diagnosing the causal sequence of conditions leading to death is not simple. We examined diagnostic support for fatal acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and investigated its association with regional variation.
METHODS AND RESULTS: From Danish nationwide registers, we identified the study population (N = 3,244,051) of whom 36,669 individuals were recorded with AMI as the underlying cause-of-death between 2002 and 2015. We included clinical diagnoses, procedures, and claimed prescriptions related to atherosclerotic disease to evaluate the level of diagnostic support for fatal AMI in three diagnostic groups (Definite; Plausible; Uncertain). Adjusted mortality rates, rate ratios, and odds ratios were estimated for each AMI category, stratified by hospital region using multivariable regression models. More than one-third (N = 12,827, 35%) of deaths reported as fatal AMI had uncertain diagnostic support. The largest regional variation in AMI mortality rate ratios, varying from 1.16 (95%CI:1.02;1.31) to 1.62 (95%CI:1.43;1.83), was found among cases with uncertain diagnostic supportive data. Substantial inter-regional differences in the degree to which death occurs outside hospital [OR: 1.01 (95%CI:0.92;1.12) - 1.49 (95%CI:1.36;1.63)] and general practitioners determining the cause-of-death at home were present. Minor regional differences [OR: 0.96 (95%CI:0.85;1.07) - 1.16 (95%CI:1.04;1.29)] in in-hospital AMI mortality were observed.
CONCLUSION: There is significant regional variation associated with recording AMI as a cause-of-death. This variation is predominately based on death certificate diagnoses without diagnostic supportive evidence. Studies of fatal AMI should include a stratification on supportive evidence of the diagnosis.