* * Anonymous Doc: 15 Ways To Fill Out A Death Certificate

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

15 Ways To Fill Out A Death Certificate

That shouldn't really be the title of this post, but I read somewhere that blog posts with numbers get more readers.  So there it is.  I get a call this morning from the medical examiner's office.

"One of your patients died last night?"

"What?  Who?  Why don't I know this?"

"You're listed as the doctor...."

Turns out it's a clinic patient that was assigned to me when fellowship started, but I've never seen him, or even spoken to him on the phone.  I pull up his record.  He was 102.

"...so we're going to need you to fill out the death certificate."

"I don't even know the patient."

"Well, we need you to fill it out.  Cause of death, everything...."

"Yeah, I don't know the cause of death.  I didn't even know he died."

"We can't do anything until you fill it out.  So you need to fill it out."

I call the patient's daughter.

"Hi, I'm calling from the clinic.  I was so sorry to hear about your father's death."

"He was 102.  It's okay."

"Yeah, I'm really sorry. .... Could you tell me how he died?"

"He was 102.  That's how he died."

"Uh, yeah... how did you find him?"

"He didn't wake up.  He was 102."

"So nothing happened."

"No, nothing specific happened."

"Okay.  Again, sorry for your loss.  I wish I'd gotten to meet him."

"We had a lot of trouble getting an appointment."

"Oh.  I'm sorry.  I don't do the scheduling.  I don't really know what to say.  I'm sorry."

"It's okay.  He was 102."

I call back the medical examiner.

"I don't have a cause of death.  He died in his sleep."

"So you want to just put something down?  You need to put down a clear sequence that led to his death."

"I don't have one."

"Should we just say homicide?"

"No.  It wasn't homicide."

"Because that one's easy and then I can go to lunch."

"No.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't homicide."

"But you're not certain."

"No, I'm not certain."

"There you go."

"Why don't I take another look at his chart and get back to you."

"You have half an hour.  This has to get done."

"Thanks.  Bye."


  1. "Because that one's easy and then I can go to lunch."

    Ugh. I can't tell if the people in your hospital are lazy, incompetent, or both.

  2. I expect that kind of crap from young assistants and such, but the ME?? Yikes.

  3. I'd say they need to call the PCP but if the dearly departed died at home, in bed, at 102 he was clearly smart enough to stay clear of doctors! :)

  4. Cause of death: TMB
    Too Many Birthdays.

    1. gosh, i like the cause of death! hope it will be on my death certificate...LOL