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01.12.2017 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

Population Health Metrics 1/2017

The incomparability of cause of death statistics under “one country, two systems”: Shanghai versus Hong Kong

Population Health Metrics > Ausgabe 1/2017
Jiaying Zhao, Edward Jow-Ching Tu, Chi-kin Law



Valid and comparable cause of death (COD) statistics are crucial for health policy analyses. Variations in COD assignment across geographical areas are well-documented while socio-institutional factors may affect the process of COD and underlying cause of death (UCD) determination. This study examines the comparability of UCD statistics in Hong Kong and Shanghai, having two political systems within one country, and assesses how socio-institutional factors influence UCD comparability.


A mixed method was used. Quantitative analyses involved anonymized official mortality records. Mortality rates were analyzed by location of death. To analyze the odds ratio of being assigned to a particular UCD, logistic regressions were performed. Qualitative analyses involved literature reviews and semi-structural interviews with key stakeholders in death registration practices. Thematic analysis was used.


Age-standardized death rates from certain immediate conditions (e.g., septicemia, pneumonia, and renal failure) were higher in Hong Kong. Variations in UCD determination may be attributed to preference of location of death, procedures of registering deaths outside hospital, perceptions on the causal chain of COD, implications of the selected UCD for doctors’ professional performance, and governance and processes of data quality review.


Variations in socio-institutional factors were related to the process of certifying and registering COD in Hong Kong and Shanghai. To improve regional data comparability, health authorities should develop standard procedures for registering deaths outside hospital, provide guidelines and regular training for doctors, develop a unified automated coding system, consolidate a standard procedure for data review and validity checks, and disseminate information concerning both UCD and multiple causes of death.
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