The accurate completion of the medical cause of death is of utmost importance for doctors in Australia. It plays a crucial role in providing vital information for public health data, research, and policy-making. This guide aims to assist doctors in understanding the process and requirements for completing the medical cause of death, ensuring accurate and reliable reporting.


As a doctor, your role in completing the medical cause of death is vital. This information serves various purposes, including epidemiological surveillance, public health planning, and the provision of mortality statistics. By accurately documenting the cause of death, you contribute to the overall understanding of diseases, their prevalence, and their impact on the population. The death certification process is also an important safeguard against the disposal of bodies without professional scrutiny of the requirement for further investigation, particularly in relation to suspicious deaths.

Understanding the Medical Cause of Death form.

The medical cause of death refers to the disease or injury that directly led to a person's death. In Australia, doctors are legally responsible for completing the medical cause of death on the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD). This certificate serves as an official record and is required for various legal and administrative purposes.

When doctors are being asked to complete the death certificate, this generally refers to the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD). However, it's crucial to distinguish the MCCD from the official death certificate issued by the Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. While the MCCD confirms the cause of death, the official death certificate serves as an official record indicating that the death has been registered. The official death certificate is usually issued by the respective state's Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages.

It's important to understand that without a completed MCCD, it becomes difficult to arrange a funeral. The MCCD serves as an essential requirement in the funeral planning process. It provides vital information about the cause of death, which is necessary for various legal and administrative purposes.

Steps to complete the Medical Cause of Death.

To complete the medical cause of death accurately, you should follow a structured approach. Here are the essential steps:

  1. Attendance at the death: When a person passes away, the attending doctor or medical practitioner should be present to confirm the death and gather the necessary information for completing the medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD).
  2. Initial documentation: The doctor completes the initial MCCD, which includes basic details about the deceased individual, such as their name, age, gender, date and time of death, and location of death. This initial certificate may also include preliminary information about the cause of death.
  3. Verification of death: The doctor verifies the death by physically examining the deceased individual's body, reviewing medical records, or conducting an autopsy if necessary. This step helps determine the cause of death and ensures accuracy in completing the MCCD.  The coroner may or may not require a full autopsy to be completed to assist with a decision regarding the medical cause of death. It is the role of the coroner to investigate the circumstances surrounding all reportable deaths and to establish wherever possible the circumstances surrounding the death, and the cause(s) of death.
  1. Determining the cause of death: Based on the examination and available information, the doctor identifies the underlying cause of death, immediate cause of death, and any contributing factors. The cause of death should be stated using clear and specific medical terminology, and International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) codes may be used to accurately classify the cause of death.
  2. Completing the MCCD: The doctor completes the MCCD by providing detailed information about the cause of death. This includes the sequence of events leading to death, any antecedent causes or conditions, and other relevant contributing factors. The MCCD should be filled out legibly and signed by the attending doctor.
  3. Documentation and reporting: The completed MCCD is then provided to the relevant authorities responsible for registering deaths. The doctor may need to retain a copy of the MCCD for their records or for further documentation purposes.

Common challenges and errors.

Completing the medical cause of death can be challenging due to various factors. Here are some common challenges and errors to be aware of:

  1. Incomplete or inaccurate information: Limited information about the patient's medical history or circumstances surrounding their death can make it difficult to determine the accurate cause of death. It is crucial to gather as much relevant information as possible to ensure accuracy.
  2. Ambiguous or non-specific terminology: Using vague or ambiguous terms when documenting the cause of death can lead to confusion and inaccuracies. It is important to use precise medical terminology that clearly describes the disease or injury.
  3. Differentiating between immediate and underlying causes: Differentiating between the immediate cause of death and the underlying cause can sometimes be challenging. The immediate cause is the final disease or condition that directly led to death, while the underlying cause is the initiating disease or condition. Careful consideration and analysis are necessary to correctly identify these causes.

Tips for accurate completion.

To ensure accuracy when completing the medical cause of death, consider the following tips:

  1. Utilise proper medical terminology: Familiarise yourself with the appropriate medical terminology related to the specific diseases or injuries you encounter. Using standardised terms helps ensure consistency and clarity.
  2. Consult relevant medical records: Reviewing the deceased person's medical records, including diagnostic test results and consultation notes, can provide valuable insights into their health condition and contribute to accurate reporting.
  3. Seek assistance when uncertain: If you encounter complex cases or are unsure about the cause of death, consult with colleagues or specialists who may have more expertise in the specific area. Collaboration can help ensure accurate reporting.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics offers an information paper and a quick reference guide on the certification of the cause of death. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Specify the specific disease, injury, or condition that directly led to the person's death, rather than simply indicating the manner of death like heart or respiratory failure.
  • It is acceptable to use very brief causes of death as long as they are logical and accurately convey the main cause.
  • If the direct cause of death stated in the "Cause of Death" section is a result of or linked to another disease, injury, or condition, make sure to mention this in the "Antecedent causes" section.
  • Whenever the cause of death could be open to interpretation, it is important to provide an antecedent cause for clarity and accuracy.
  • In the case of any type of haemorrhage or fracture, always include an antecedent cause. For example, for a fracture, you could indicate osteoporosis as the antecedent cause, and for an intracerebral haemorrhage, hypertension might be listed.
  • Include only the relevant and significant information about the cause of death. The cause of death details, combined with the deceased person's identification and family information, are used to create the death certificate.

Legal considerations and certification.

Completing the medical cause of death carries legal responsibilities. As a doctor, you are required to sign and certify the cause of death on the MCCD. This certification confirms that the information provided is accurate to the best of your knowledge and belief.

Importance of timely and accurate reporting.

Timely and accurate reporting of the cause of death is crucial for various reasons:

  1. Impact on public health data: The data collected from death certificates is used to monitor population health trends, identify emerging diseases, and evaluate the effectiveness of public health interventions. Accurate reporting ensures the reliability of this data.
  2. Research and policy implications: Accurate cause of death reporting contributes to medical research, epidemiological studies, and the development of health policies. It helps researchers and policymakers understand disease patterns and allocate resources appropriately.

Resources and support for doctors.

Several resources and support systems are available to assist doctors in accurately completing the medical cause of death:

  1. Guidelines and resources: Familiarise yourself with the guidelines provided by relevant authorities, such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics or state health departments. These guidelines outline the recommended procedures and standards for completing the MCCD.
  2. Training and education: Attend workshops, seminars, or online courses that provide training on completing the medical cause of death. Continuing medical education programs often offer sessions on this topic.

Final thoughts on completing an MCCD.

Accurately completing the medical cause of death is an essential responsibility for doctors in Australia. By following a structured approach, utilising proper medical terminology, and seeking assistance when needed, you can ensure accurate reporting. Timely and accurate reporting contributes to public health data, research, and policy-making, ultimately benefiting the overall understanding and improvement of population health.

If you are looking for specific state based information, look at the links below: