Medical Terminology Coding Systems and Medicolegal Death Investigation Data: Searching for a Standardized Method of Electronic Coding at a Statewide Medical Examiner’s Office*


  • *

    This study was supported by funding from the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New Mexico Department of Health.

Additional information and reprint requests:
Sarah L. Lathrop, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Office of the Medical Investigator
MSC11 6030
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001


Abstract:  Medical examiner and coroner reports are a rich source of data for epidemiologic research. To maximize the utility of this information, medicolegal death investigation data need to be electronically coded. In order to determine the best option for coding, we evaluated four different options (Current Procedural Terminology [CPT], International Classification of Disease [ICD] coding, Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine Clinical Terms [SNOMED CT], and an in-house system), then conducted internal and external needs assessments to determine which system best met the needs of a centralized, statewide medical examiner’s office. Although all four systems offer distinct advantages and disadvantages, SNOMED CT is the most accurate for coding pathologic diagnoses, with ICD-10 the best option for classifying the cause of death. For New Mexico’s Office of the Medical Investigator, the most feasible coding option is an upgrade of an in-house coding system, followed by linkage to ICD codes for cause of death from the New Mexico Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, and ideally, SNOMED classification of pathologic diagnoses.