He went on the lecture circuit for several years to clarify the importance of accurate coding, "and saw a few shocked faces. I could tell they were thinking, 'Oh crap. I've been writing whatever. And they're using this for statistics!' "
He and other mortality cause experts started speaking to large groups around the country to explain: "We use this information for setting national priorities and determining the leading causes of death. It's important information. If we get crappy information, we risk misallocating funds. It's a very big deal."
I asked Anderson if hospitals, such as those in New York City, had corrected the problem by now.
He replied rhetorically, "Don't I wish?"
"The situation In New York City is getting better, and they have done some interventions for some hospitals, and the rates have come down, Anderson said. "But there are still problems in funeral homes and nursing homes, where people say 'Let's just put this down and get it done. And everyone will be happy.' "
To some, making sure the death certificate reflects an accurate reason for death, including contributing causes, may seem like an administrative waste.
Maybe it does seem gruesome, but it is important. And any further refinement in the coding system can only help give us more information.
I, for one, want to know why people die.