The ABS sources information about deaths and their causes from the RBDMs in each state and territory. The ABS compiles these data and codes the causes of death to an international standard, called the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). Coding causes of death to an international standard enables the comparability of statistics over time and between countries.
The ICD is revised periodically and currently in its tenth revision (ICD-10). The ICD-10 has been used for Australian causes of death statistics since 1997 and comprises more than 14,000 causes of death and illness; analysis of groups of causes is therefore more manageable than individual causes.
The coding produces an underlying cause—the disease or condition which initiated the sequence of events resulting in death—and, for most deaths, associated causes (any other diseases or conditions that contributed to the death but were not the underlying cause).
Once coded, causes of death can be categorised into disease groupings. Disease groupings are useful for tabulating causes of death in a meaningful way and for examining patterns and trends by cause of death and other important population attributes.
A common method of grouping causes is by ICD chapters (see Table 1). The chapters are arranged according to the type of disease (for example, ‘Certain infectious or parasitic diseases’), the body system affected (for example, ‘Diseases of the circulatory system’) or the circumstance causing death (for example, ‘External causes of morbidity and mortality’, which include injury and poisoning).
For some public health purposes, information about causes of death needs to be more specific; coding causes of death enables identification of specific causes such as influenza, stroke or motor vehicle accident.
There are other methods of grouping diseases that are useful for public health purposes. For example, see Classifying causes of death.
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