PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles

Non-Clinical Medicine - Obstetrics - Public Health and Epidemiology - Women's Health

Factors Associated with Physician Agreement and Coding Choices of Cause of Death Using Verbal Autopsies for 1130 Maternal Deaths in India
Published: Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Author: Ann L. Montgomery et al.

by Ann L. Montgomery, Shaun K. Morris, Diego G. Bassani, Rajesh Kumar, Raju Jotkar, Prabhat Jha


The Indian Sample Registration System (SRS) with verbal autopsy methods provides estimations of cause specific mortality for maternal deaths, where the majority of deaths occur at home, unregistered. We aim to examine factors that influence physician agreement and coding choices in assigning causes of death from verbal autopsies.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Among adult deaths identified in the SRS, pregnancy-related deaths recorded in 2001–2003 were assigned ICD-10 codes by two independent physicians. Inter-rater reliability was estimated using Landis Koch Kappa classification – poor to fair agreement; > – moderate agreement; > – substantial agreement; >– high agreement. We identified factors associated with physician agreement using multivariate logistic regression. A central consensus panel reviewed cases for errors and reclassified as needed based on 2011 ICD-10 coding guidelines. Of 1130 pregnancy-related deaths, 1040 were assigned ICD-10 codes by two physicians. We found substantial agreement regardless of the woman's residence, whether the death was registered, religion, respondent's or deceased's education, age, hospital admission or gestational age. Physician agreement was not influenced by the above variables, with the exception of greater agreement in cases where the respondent did not live with the deceased, or early gestational age at the time of death. A central consensus panel reviewed all cases and recoded 10% of cases due to insufficient use of information in the verbal autopsy by the coding physicians and rationale for this reclassification are discussed.


In the absence of complete vital registration and universal healthcare services, physician coded verbal autopsies continues to be heavily relied upon to ascertain pregnancy-related death. From this study, two independent physicians had good inter-rater reliability for assigning pregnancy-related causes of death in a nationally-represented sample, and physician coding does not appear to be heavily influenced by case characteristics or demographics.