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Electronic death certification makes sense for GPs and relatives

Technology has the capacity to introduce substantial efficiencies across the board. In general practice we now issue electronic prescriptions to a pharmacy of the patient’s choice without the need for paper or signature. Every prescription is numbered and tracked so the old prescription pads are becoming obsolete.

Other official documents like sickness certificates (Med3) are also issued electronically on ordinary A4 paper meaning that official certificate pads are essentially redundant.

Death certificates (Medical Certificates of Cause of Death) however elude this progress, just at the time when we are requested to issue them within five days irrespective of weekends. Only one book is allowed per practice and, as doctors are increasingly part-time or working in different locations, this means that the appropriate urgency is thwarted.

It seems sensible to GPs on the frontline that issuing death certificates should be done by the appropriate doctor electronically from any location. Approximately 1% of the average practice list dies every year. This adds up to a lot of inconvenience for bereaved relatives having to collect a certificate from the patient’s surgery. The same applies for hospital deaths, where relatives might have to travel a long way and wait a long time to collect this vital piece of paper.

Scotland has already had such an electronic system in place for two years

It should be possible for GPs to fill out the death certificate and supply relevant extracts from notes remotely, using an online death certification portal. Medical examiners (once appointed – the Government having delayed their introduction til next year) could then authorise death certificate release, after carrying out the appropriate checks.

Scotland has already had such an electronic system in place for two years, so there is a precedent for this.

After all, only death and taxes are certain in life – and your tax return can be filed online!

Dr John Havard and Dr Akash Karki are GPs in Suffolk


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