Statistics on mortality little more than guess

Margin of error on death certificates is estimated to be 20 to 50 percent.


SPRINGFIELD — Does smoking, cancer, heart disease or some other ailment kill Clark County residents any more or less than the average rates elsewhere?

As it stands now, there’s no way to know for sure.

The numbers that state agencies, nonprofits, and leagues of researchers use to determine what kills people and how often have a huge margin of error, according to studies cited by the county coroner and an expert in pathology at Ohio State University.

An attempt to put numbers to causes of death here proved highly speculative. It turns out the best data available isn’t very reliable.

“It is a problem,” said Dr. Charles Hitchcock, an associate professor in the pathology department at OSU Medical Center. “And it has implications, too. ... Sometimes it has financial implications for a family.”

The implications may be even more widespread.

“You base health statistics on this,” said Dr. Richard Marsh, Clark County’s coroner. “That’s how we figure out why people are dying. If we’re going to direct (research) money, we better be certain we have the right data behind it.”

For example, in 2008, the Ohio Department of Health produced a county-by-county “cancer profile,” relying on data of cancer incidence and mortality rates. The mortality rates listed in the much-cited docuements may not be accurate.

Various scientific studies place the error rate for the “cause of death” box on death certificates between 20 and 50 percent.

Why? It’s incredibly hard to accurately describe why someone has died based solely on their medical history, Hitchcock said.

Those huge error rates are calculated by allowing a doctor to fill out a death certificate with how he or she thinks the person died based on medical history. Then autopsies are performed on the study group to determine the actual cause of death.

Autopsies themselves have a rate of error, but “they’re a lot better than the clinical (determination),” Marsh said.

“The autopsy is considered the gold standard,” he said.

The Ohio Department of Health has determined that 23.5 percent of Clark County residents currently smoke — very close to the rate in the rest of the state, at 23.4 percent.

But the rate of error in reporting causes of death skews any data about how often Clark Countians die from smoking-related diseases. Or any disease, for that matter.

Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0353 or at bsmith@coxohio.com.


Reader Comments


Next Up in Community News

California woman charged after daughter, 8, killed by train
California woman charged after daughter, 8, killed by train

A California woman was arrested on felony child neglect charges Tuesday after her 8-year-old daughter was killed by a train near downtown Fresno, KFSN reported. >> Read more trending news  Joy Frances Collins, 44, had urged her daughter and 9-year-old son to cross the tracks Monday around 6 p.m. because they were trying to catch a bus...
3 bomb scares in weeks: ‘We have to take these things seriously’
3 bomb scares in weeks: ‘We have to take these things seriously’

A suspicious package attached to a parked car outside two restaurants at the Dayton Mall was removed by a robot Monday night as customers of the eateries were kept from their vehicles for hours. The questionable package reported outside Bravo Cucina Italiana and the Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern prompted a nearly five-hour investigation, the third...
New York City mom gives potential car thief 'a whoopin''
New York City mom gives potential car thief 'a whoopin''

Don’t mess around with an angry mom, especially if you are trying to steal her vehicle. >> Read more trending news  A New York City mother taking her son to school, seeing a man attempting to steal her SUV, dragged him out of the vehicle and pinned him to the ground until police arrived, WABC reported. "He's lucky I...
Man caught trying to sell stolen appliances on Facebook, police say
Man caught trying to sell stolen appliances on Facebook, police say

Facebook can be a great place to sell household appliances -- but it's not a great venue to sell stolen ones. >> Read more trending news  Police said a New Mexico man, in a “dumb move,” broke into a house, stole some appliances and then tried to sell them to undercover Rio Rancho police officers on Facebook, KRQE reported...
Bath Twp. vote on fire contracts tonight will end Fairborn agreement
Bath Twp. vote on fire contracts tonight will end Fairborn agreement

Bath Twp. trustees are expected to approve new contracts tonight for fire and EMS service, ending a long-standing relationship with the city of Fairborn. Contracts agreements were reached this week with Bethel, Miami and Beavercreek townships, and Bath Twp. trustees will consider approving the agreements at their meeting tonight. RELATED: A fire contract...
More Stories