Why should physicians know how to complete death certificates? What diseases must be reported to health departments? While these questions may not titillate all readers of The Journal, the fact is that mortality and morbidity data provided by clinical practitioners serve as the foundation of essential databases used for planning, implementing, and evaluating health programs at all levels in the United States. As such, the role played by the practitioner in reporting health data has far-reaching effects on our nation's health programs.
The medical literature has increasingly focused attention on the implications for accuracy in completing death certificates and other forms that are essential to meet the health information needs of the United States. For example, articles in The Journal and other publications have recently addressed topics such as uses of multiple-cause-of-death data, reporting of congenital malformations, the imperative of documenting tobacco use—related mortality, surveillance for infectious diseases, and the