UNDERSTANDING CHANGES OVER TIME
Changes in patterns of mortality are studied by policy makers and researchers to improve health outcomes for all Australians. However, changes in patterns of mortality can occur for many reasons. Changes can reflect a real increase or decrease in the prevalence of a disease or disorder, or a change in medical treatment. Mortality data changes can also be a result of administrative processes which can potentially impact on the data, for example, International Classification of Disease (ICD) coding classification changes and updates, and differences in how deaths are certified. Analysis of the multiple causes of death data can give a deeper understanding of how the complete dataset may be affected by both real and administrative changes. For example, in 2009, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended introducing code J09 (Influenza due to certain identified influenza virus) to the ICD-10 in response to the worldwide epidemics of swine flu and avian flu. There were 96 people who died as a direct consequence of contracting these strains of the flu across 2009 and 2010. In addition there were 51 people who had this flu when they died and for whom this would have been a complicating factor. Additional health risk factors may also be identified. When swine or avian flu was the underlying cause of death, multiple cause data shows obesity and respiratory problems as a common associated cause. In this way, multiple cause data provides policy makers and researchers a greater insight beyond the underlying cause of death.