Public health officials continually face new data demands and expectations. Although vital statistics may not be the first thing on your mind during a public health crisis, they are essential for formulating a rapid response. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made timely and accurate reporting of deaths a key priority during the current COVID-19 pandemic. When COVID-19 first hit, states faced an unprecedented number of death certificates requiring treatment. States needed to quickly, efficiently, and securely process vital records data to meet the needs of their constituents, while providing timely data to the CDC to inform federal response teams.
Federal funding goes directly to states for these types of modernization projects, and nearly two-thirds of states have vital records management systems (VRMS) that are more than 10 years old. As states modernize their VRMS, they must do so by ensuring timely and accurate reporting, fraud prevention, and voter customer service. Let’s take a closer look at each.
TIMELY AND ACCURATE REPORTS
Timely reporting of births and deaths has always been important, but COVID-19 has increased the urgency. Once a death related to COVID-19 is reported, this data must be provided to the CDC within 72 hours. When electronic systems are not in place, producing timely and accurate reports is a significant challenge. In any given state, the VRMS must communicate with countless external data providers, such as hospitals and agencies, while supporting tens of thousands of users. When external data providers do not have proper data rules in place, back-and-forth with the provider may be required, wasting valuable time. Modernization improves overall data quality and eliminates this stumbling block. In a modernized system, there is less manual entry and more category selection, which minimizes human error.
Certification is an important part of managing vital documents. It is crucial to have a process in place to ensure records are genuine. For birth certificates, the doctor who participated in the birth certifies the act. In the past, the physician would simply tick a box in the system, with no auditing or verification required. Modernization adds a layer of verification, using biometrics to ensure to the right doctor certifies the case – not just any user with access to the system. It also facilitates this process by allowing physicians to certify cases through a mobile app, thus greatly speeding up the process. This process can also be used by physicians or funeral directors to certify death records.
Fraud prevention doesn’t stop there, however. For any printed certification, there is a bond paper, which has the same value as the actual money paper. If the wrong person grabs the paper, all kinds of fraud can happen. Historically, security paper tracking has been done outside of the VRMS using a heavy manual paper trail. With a modernized system, anyone can track security paper from the minute they enter the branch to the minute they exit. With the click of a button, someone can see where the papers are, how they were used, why they were cancelled, etc.
BETTER CUSTOMER SERVICE FOR CONSTITUENTS
It’s not just the CDC that needs official birth and death records. Voters need it too. Until a family member receives the death certificate, they cannot make any funeral arrangements. The modernization not only simplifies the process of ordering a certificate, but also checking its status. Voters can simply go to a website, enter unique information, make a request, or view the status of a previous request. If there are any issues, this can also be communicated via the portal, which creates increased transparency. Streamlining this process minimizes backlogs.
A similar benefit applies to an acknowledgment of paternity. Modernization minimizes back and forth between constituents and the hospital, and between the hospital and outside agencies. When this happens electronically, everyone can see what’s going on, instead of having to make phone calls and wait for a response.
MAKING MODERNIZATION A REALITY
Upgrading a VRMS can seem like a daunting task, and many states are concerned about the change. Some lack the money, time or commitment to modernize their entire system, especially since it requires the participation of tens of thousands of users. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these benefits. Modernization can be done gradually. A single mobile app, for example, can help prevent fraud without requiring a complete back-end system overhaul. Maybe you upgrade the death module first, then gradually expand it. You don’t want to invest in a new system that will be obsolete in a few years. But you don’t want to miss out on the many benefits of modernization either.
Viren Alvekar is Vice President of the Vital Records Practice at COMG, a leading provider of advanced technology solutions. Viren has over 20 years of experience in the development and delivery of IT projects. For the past eight years, Viren has operated in the Vital Records business – leading Vital Records transformation projects for various state and city clients. Viren earned his MBA from Binghamton University, New York and his BS in Computer Science from Dr. DY Patil Institute of Technology in India.