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Mortality data are important in the measurement of disease and consequently health in the planning of public health care. Studying trends in mortality over time helps to understand how the health status of the population is changing and assists in the evaluation of the health system.
Mortality data also provide a basis for investigating the incidence of disease, its severity and the quality of life before death. The patterns of mortality in the community in terms of cause, age, sex, population group, and geographical distribution, inform the work of epidemiologists, medical personnel, and those working in health policy, planning and administration.
A diverse range of commercial companies use mortality data to, amongst other things, anticipate demand for services (e.g. funeral directors), calculate risk (e.g. life insurance companies) or monitor trends (e.g. employers, motor vehicle manufacturers).
Measuring and comparing mortality rates across populations also helps to highlight health differences among different groups of people (e.g. people of various cultural or social backgrounds or different age groups). It may also help to highlight differences in how readily one group can access a health care service compared to another group. For instance, people living in remote geographical areas often need to travel large distances to larger population centres to access specialised health care services, compared with their counterparts living close by the services in the cities. This can result in poorer health outcomes.
In discussing mortality it is necessary to identify the impact of increases and reductions in mortality. The effect of changes in mortality is often best appreciated through increases in life expectancy.