News: 94% of patients who died from COVID-19 had complicating conditions, data confusion surrounding virus risk

CDI Strategies - Volume 14, Issue 36

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated their COVID-19 dashboard to include information about patient outcomes and comorbid conditions. While CDI professionals are well acquainted with the impact of comorbid conditions on patient severity of illness, risk of mortality, resource consumption, length of stay, and the like, the new data has caused a bit of a stir in the general American public.

Following a Twitter post by President Donald Trump containing an erroneous claim about COVID-19 mortality statistics released contained in the dashboard, many Americans are understandably confused as to what the CDC statistics actually mean for COVID-19 risk of mortality.

The CDC data states that (emphasis added), “For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned. For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death.”

Some people have expressed confusion over this statement following the president’s tweet, believing that only 6% of deaths attributed to COVID-19 were actually caused by the virus. This confusion has led to some reaching the conclusion that COVID-19 is far less dangerous than originally thought. However, the statistics actually show that of those who died due to COVID-19, the virus was the only cause of death 6% of the time. The other 94% of people who died from COVID-19 in the United States had other conditions that contributed to their death in addition to the virus.

This echoes information that public health officials have shared since the pandemic’s start that people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of complications and death due to COVID-19. Such underlying health conditions include chronic lung problems, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and renal disease, among others.

As of August 22, there were 161,392 COVID-19 deaths in the United States. On the same date, there were also 167,432 respiratory disease comorbidities listed on death certificates such as pneumonia, respiratory arrest, and respiratory failure (keep in mind that death certificates could have COVID-19, pneumonia, and respiratory failure all as cause of death). There were 110,355 circulatory diseases listed as an additional cause of death, 14,053 listed sepsis, and 25,936 listed diabetes, according to the CDC.

The high instances of comorbidities and additional causes of death illustrate the complications associated with COVID-19 that can increase a patient’s risk of mortality. The 6% who had just COVID-19 as a cause of death, it can be assumed, had no other complications such as renal failure or respiratory arrest—though CDI professionals know that complicating conditions can go un- or under-documented. Of course, this points back to the importance of documenting all comorbidities and related conditions on a patient chart. Not only does CDI work ensure that the patient’s record is accurate and complete, but it also provides reliable data for public health initiatives during the pandemic.

Editor’s note: Click here to read the CDC provisional death counts for COVID-19. Additional ACDIS articles related to COVID-19 and comorbidities can be found here, here, and here.

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Clinical & Coding, News

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