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J Am Med Inform Assoc. 1997 May-Jun;4(3):233-7.

Use of commercial record linkage software and vital statistics to identify patient deaths.

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Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco 94143, USA.


We evaluate the ability of a microcomputer program (Automatch) to link patient records in our hospital's database (N = 253,836) with mortality files from California (N = 1,312,779) and the U.S. Social Security Administration (N = 13,341,581). We linked 96.5% of 3,448 in-hospital deaths, 99.3% for patients with social security numbers. None of 14,073 patients known to be alive (because they were subsequently admitted) was linked with California deaths, and only 6 (0.1%) of 6,444 were falsely identified as dead in the United States file. For patients with unknown vital status but items in the database likely to be associated with high 3-year mortality rates, we identified death records of 88% of 494 patients with cancer metastatic to the liver, 84% of 164 patients with pancreatic cancer, and 91% of 126 patients with CD4 counts of less than 50. Hospital data can be accurately linked with state and national vital statistics using commercial record linkage software.

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