A method for reclassifying cause of death in cases categorized as “event of undetermined intent”
Background: We present a method for reclassifying external causes of death categorized as “event of undetermined intent” (EUIs) into non-transport accidents, suicides, or homicides. In nations like Russia and the UK the absolute number of EUIs is large, the EUI death rate is high, or EUIs comprise a non-trivial proportion of all deaths due to external causes. Overuse of this category may result in (1) substantially underestimating the mortality rate of deaths due to specific external causes and (2) threats to the validity of studies of the patterns and causes of external deaths and of evaluations of the impact of interventions meant to reduce them.
Methods: We employ available characteristics about the deceased and the event to estimate the most likely cause of death using multinomial logistic regression. We use the set of known non-transport accidents, suicides, and homicides to calculate an mlogit-based linear score and an estimated classification probability (ECP). This ECP is applied to EUIs, with varying levels of minimal classification probability. We also present an optional second step that employs a population-level adjustment to reclassify deaths that remain undetermined (the proportion of which varies based on the minimal classification probability). We illustrate our method by applying it to Russia. Between 2000 and 2011, 521,000 Russian deaths (15 % percent of all deaths from external causes) were categorized as EUIs. We used data from anonymized micro-data on the ~3 million deaths from external causes. Our reclassification model used 10 decedent and event characteristics from the computerized death records.
Results: Results show that during this period about 14 % of non-transport accidents, 13 % of suicides, and 33 % of homicides were officially categorized as EUIs. Our findings also suggest that 2011 levels of non-transport accidents and suicides would have been about 24 % higher and of homicide about 82 % higher than that reported by official vital statistics data.
Conclusions: Overuse of the external cause of death classification “event of undetermined intent” may indicate questionable quality of mortality data on external causes of death. This can have wide-ranging implications for families, medical professionals, the justice system, researchers, and policymakers. With our classification probability set as equal to or higher than 0.75, we were able to reclassify about two-thirds of EUI deaths in our sample. Our optional additional step allowed us to redistribute the remaining unclassified EUIs. Our method can be applied to data from any nation or sub-national population in which the EUI category is employed.