Causes of death: documentation of statistics
Basic data of the statistics
The statistics on causes of death describe the causes of death of individuals residing permanently in Finland. The statistics have been produced since 1936. The statistics’ data sources are the data on deaths obtained from the Population Information System and death certificates written by doctors.
The data on causes of death carry great significance in the general information system describing the population's health. Data on causes of death are used extensively in medical research. Differences in the mortality of population groups, for example, are studied by combining the data with Statistics Finland's other data.
Investigations on the cause of death and the related procedures, including the production of statistics and the archiving of death certificates, are based on the Act (459/1973) and Decree (948/1973) on Investigating the Cause of Death. Commission Regulation (EC) No 328/2011 specifies the data on causes of death which each EU Member State must produce and deliver to the EU.
Statistics Finland maintains Finland’s death certificate archives. The archives contain the death certificates of Finnish residents as of 1936. The death certificates from 1936 to 1965 are located at the National Archives of Finland and death certificates more recent than them are archived at Statistics Finland.
The statistics on causes of death include all those who died during the statistical year in Finland or abroad whose municipality of residence was, at the time of their death, in Finland. The date of death and information on the municipality of residence are obtained from the Population Information System. The data also include any deceased who were residing in Finland temporarily, but they do not belong to the national statistical data. Stillbirths are not included in those who died during the statistical year; separate statistics on stillbirths are compiled.
The statistical unit of the statistics on causes of death is a person. In the data, each person has their own identifier, which is used in combining data with other individual-based data.
Unit of measure
The data of the statistics on causes of death are published on a countrywide level and by region. Data are also available on other regional levels.
The statistics on causes of death include all those who died during the calendar year in Finland or abroad whose municipality of residence was, at the time of their death, in Finland. The data also include any deceased who were residing in Finland temporarily, even though they do not belong to the statistical population of the national statistics. Every year, the statistical data fall short of the death certificates of a few hundred individuals.
The data of death certificates received after the release of the statistics are not added to the statistics’ annual data; rather, they are only included in the research data and death certificate archives.
Frequency of dissemination
The final statistical data are released annually.
Accidental poisonings by alcohol are poisoning deaths caused by alcohol or a similar substitute (category X45).
Forensic autopsy is most often performed if death has occurred in such circumstances that police investigation is necessary in order to establish the cause of death. A forensic autopsy is performed at the request of police.
A police investigation will be conducted in following situations:
- If the deceased was not under a doctor's care during his/her latest illness, or
- If the death was caused by a crime, accident, suicide, poisoning, occupational disease or medical treatment or there is cause to suspect that the death was caused by such a reason, or
- If the death otherwise occurred unexpectedly.
A medical autopsy can be performed:
- If the cause of death cannot be established from information on the deceased person during his/her lifetime and information related to the event of his/her death, and the deceased person was in the care of a doctor during his/her latest illness, and if an autopsy is necessary in the interest of public health and medical science,
- The next of kin or otherwise close person of the deceased requests it.
Thus, a medical autopsy is performed at the request of a physician or relatives of the deceased.
Other basis for investigating the cause of death:
The commonest other basis for an investigation of the cause of death is a clinical examination of the deceased and information on his/her latest illness or medical treatment.
Accuracy, reliability and timeliness
Given that the data on the death of deceased persons is obtained from the Population Information System, the coverage of the statistics on causes of death is practically nearly 100 per cent. Individuals declared legally dead are not included in the number of deceased in the statistics on causes of death. The statistics will lack the cause of death for some 100 to 150 individuals every year, because they cannot be provided with a death certificate. In 2021, the statistics lacked a death certificate in 322 deaths, corresponding to 0.6 per cent of all deaths.
A majority of the causes of death are based on clinical data, but autopsies play an important role in the quality assurance of causes of death. The proportion of autopsies in all deaths in Finland is the highest in the Nordic countries. The number of forensic autopsies in Finland has declined as of 2010. In 2021, autopsies were performed on 17,6 per cent of the deceased. Of these, 14,0 per cent were forensic autopsies, while 3,6 per cent were clinical autopsies.
Time lag - first results / TP1
Comparability - geographical
The statistical cause of death is determined according to the selection and application rules of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO). A majority of the causes of death are based on clinical data, but autopsies play an important role in the quality assurance of causes of death. The proportion of autopsies in all deaths in Finland is the highest in the Nordic countries.
Comparability - over time
To improve the comparability of the data on causes of death across different years, various classifications have been made in the data. The national time series classification (with 54 categories) includes data as of 1969. Eurostat’s 86-category European shortlist for causes of death 2012 classification is also in use from 1998 onwards. The three-character level of the ICD-10 classification and existing comparable time series classifications are described on the home pages of the statistics on causes of death, under Classifications.
Coherence - cross domain
The data on deaths published in Statistics Finland’s statistics on population change represent comprehensive statistics on the number of deaths. The annual number of deaths differs from the number of deaths in the statistics on causes of death to some degree. The difference is mainly attributable to reports of deaths that are late for the statistics on population changes (those arriving after the end of January) being transferred to the statistics of the following year. Calculations on infant mortality in official contexts rely on the number of those who have died under one years of age in the statistics on population change.
The statistics on road traffic accidents produce statistics on the number of deaths in road traffic. The data are obtained from the information system of the police. The coverage of the data is reviewed with the help of the data in the statistics on causes of death. Occupational accident statistics are compiled on the basis of the data of insurance activities and the statistics include all fatalities at work for which insurance institutions have paid indemnity. In the statistics on causes of death, data on occupational accidents are obtained from death certificates.
Coherence - internal
Source data and data collections
Death certificates are delivered to Statistics Finland by THL in either digital or hard-copy format. In 2021, approximately 14 per cent of death certificates were delivered in digital format. Death certificates in hard-copy format are scanned into image format at Statistics Finland and some data are read optically into the database.
Frequency of data collection
Principles and outlines
Contact organisation unit
Legal acts and other agreements
Confidentiality - policy
The data protection of data collected for statistical purposes is guaranteed in accordance with the requirements of the Statistics Act (280/2004), the Act on the Openness of Government Activities (621/1999), the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/679 and the Data Protection Act (1050/2018). The data materials are protected at all stages of processing with the necessary physical and technical solutions. Statistics Finland has compiled detailed directions and instructions for confidential processing of the data. Employees have access only to the data essential for their duties. The premises where unit-level data are processed are not accessible to outsiders. Members of the personnel have signed a pledge of secrecy upon entering the service. Violation of data protection is punishable. Further information: Data protection | Statistics Finland (stat.fi)
Confidentiality - data treatment
Further information: Publication principles for statistics at Statistics Finland
The data in the statistics on causes of death are published annually on the website of Statistics Finland and in the free of charge StatFin statistical database. The tables of the statistics on causes of death are produced according to the statistical underlying cause of death.
Statistics Finland also maintains Finland’s death certificate archives. The archives contain the death certificates of Finnish residents as of 1936. Death certificates from 1936 to 1965 are located at the National Archives of Finland. Death certificates more recent than these are archived at Statistics Finland. The documents related to investigations on the cause of death are confidential (Act on Investigating the Cause of Death 459/1973). Copies of death certificates and data on causes of death are nevertheless released from the archives for the purposes provided in the Act on Investigating the Cause of Death. These purposes primarily consist of disclosure to a deceased’s next of kin, pension institutions and the purposes of authorities. Data on death certificates may also be disclosed for scientific studies and statistical reviews (Act on the Openness of Government Activities 621/1999).
Accessibility and clarity
Statistical data are published as database tables in the StatFin database. The database is the primary publishing site of data, and new data are updated first there. When releasing statistical data, existing database tables can be updated with new data or completely new database tables can be published.
In addition to statistical data published in the StatFin database, a release on the key data is usually published in the web service. If the release contains data concerning several reference periods (e.g. monthly and annual data), a review bringing together these data is published in the web service. Database tables updated at the time of publication are listed both in the release and in the review. In some cases, statistical data can also be published as mere database releases in the StatFin database. No release or review is published in connection with these database releases.
Releases and database tables are published in three languages, in Finnish, Swedish and English. The language versions of releases may have more limited content than in Finnish. Information about changes in the publication schedules of releases and database tables and about corrections are given as change releases in the web service.
Data revision - policy
Revisions – i.e. improvements in the accuracy of statistical data already published – are a normal feature of statistical production and result in improved quality of statistics. The principle is that statistical data are based on the best available data and information concerning the statistical phenomenon. On the other hand, the revisions are communicated as transparently as possible in advance. Advance communication ensures that the users can prepare for the data revisions.
The reason why data in statistical releases become revised is often caused by the data becoming supplemented. Then the new, revised statistical figure is based on a wider information basis and describes the phenomenon more accurately than before.
Revisions of statistical data may also be caused by the calculation method used, such as annual benchmarking or updating of weight structures. Changes of base years and used classifications may also cause revisions to data.
A death certificate is written by the physician who pronounces the death. If the investigation of a cause of death requires an autopsy, the forensic pathologist draws up the death certificate once the data are completed. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) is responsible for the inspection and supervision of death certificates. The forensic pathologist of an area first inspects the accuracy of a certificate and then sends it to Statistics Finland. A health institution or doctor must also notify the Population Information System of a death. At Statistics Finland, the data in death certificates are compared with the Population Information System’s data on the deceased. THL is also informed of any missing death certificates for the purposes of its supervisory duties.
The diagnostic texts and cause-of-death codes provided by doctors are checked at Statistics Finland. The statistical cause of death is determined according to the selection and application rules of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO). If the data on a death certificate are deficient, inconsistent or difficult to classify, coding is made with the help of the death certificate’s event data or additional information is requested from a medical expert or the writer of the death certificate. When coding cases of poisoning, the research results from the register of forensic chemistry are often used as additional information. A medical expert handles around 500 cases every year. Additional information is requested from the writer of a death certificate in about 50 cases a year. Additional information is provided by the register of forensic chemistry for approximately 120 cases a year.
Given that the data on the death of deceased persons is obtained from the Population Information System, the coverage of the statistics on causes of death is practically nearly 100 per cent. Individuals declared legally dead are not included in the number of deceased in the statistics on causes of death. The statistics will lack the cause of death for some 100 to 300 individuals every year, because they cannot be provided with a death certificate. In 2021, the statistics lacked a death certificate in 322 deaths, corresponding to 0.6 per cent of all deaths.
Quality management requires comprehensive guidance of activities. The quality management framework of the field of statistics is the European Statistics Code of Practice (CoP). The quality criteria of Official Statistics of Finland are compatible with the European Statistics Code of Practice.
Further information: Quality management | Statistics Finland (stat.fi)
Data are released to all users at the same time. Statistical data may only be handled at Statistics Finland and information on them may be given before release only by persons involved in the production of the statistics concerned or who need the data of the statistics concerned in their own work before the data are published.
Further information: Publication principles for statistics
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