It’s an age-old question in medicine: What killed my patient?
The answer isn’t always easy. For example, HIV doesn’t kill; an infected patient typically dies of a complication or infection stemming from their impaired immune system. Often, deciding what was to blame becomes a judgment call by the physician completing the patient’s death certificate.
Consider the case of a patient who develops drug-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) during treatment for another serious medical condition. The death certificate likely would list as the cause of death the underlying health issues that brought the patient to the hospital, not the deadly infection. “Cause of death is rarely coded as a drug-resistant pathogen,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, PhD, MPH, the director and a senior fellow of The Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy and an affiliate professor of global health at the University of Washington, in Seattle.