Feb 28, 2021 12:16 PM

Degner explains death certificate process and COVID-19

Posted Feb 28, 2021 12:16 PM

By NICK GOSNELL

Hutch Post

HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Dr. Rex Degner, Chief Medical Officer at Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System wants to clear up the way Hutchinson Regional handles death certificates and COVID-19. There is a difference between dying with COVID-19 and dying of COVID-19.

"You can have cancer, but you still die of something else," Degner said. "You don't necessarily die of your cancer. You can have a heart attack or a stroke or something like that. It's the same thing with COVID. Somebody can have COVID and still die of another cause. The ultimate one is walking out in front of a truck and getting run over. You die from an accident. You didn't die from your COVID and that's where things get a little tricky when you die of some other medical condition."

If it's a lung condition and a person has COVID, that's pretty straightforward. If it involves other systems, it gets murky.

"When the doctors are signing out their death certificates, they try and sign them out in such a way that it explains, it gives what the immediate cause of death was, and if there's something else that actually fully contributed to it, also put that there," Degner said. "It's my understanding that for the state of Kansas. I don't know nationwide how this works or not, that if you write COVID anywhere on a death certificate, it's going to be listed as a COVID death. I believe our hospitalists and most docs are somewhat aware of that and only put it down if they really thought it was actually contributing to the death."

Degner gave an example of a question that came up last year regarding a death.

"We're trying very much to do the right thing here in Reno County," Degner said. "We early on had a patient that had very advanced cancer, came in with complications of her cancer, happened to also, late in the process, realized that she at some point had been COVID positive, but it really didn't contribute to her death, but they didn't put it on the death certificate and it didn't get counted."

Degner is part of a group that includes the Chief of Staff that reviews all death certificates for deaths that occur at Hutchinson Regional.

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