National Vital Statistics System

Modernization Goals and Accomplishments

– Steve Schwartz, Director, Division of Vital Statistics

“We’ve been in business a long time, but we’re reinventing ourselves every day”

– Steve Schwartz, Director, Division of Vital Statistics

The process of modernization is leading toward one main goal: to transform the National Vital Statistics System into a tool for real-time public health surveillance.

Reducing processing time for vital records from years to months – or even from weeks to days – can help identify, monitor, track, and potentially predict the course of diseases and other urgent events. Faster and more accurate vital statistics data will bolster our nationwide capacity to answer both longstanding and emerging health challenges.

 Because the flow of vital statistics data is critical to public health, NVSS is working with states to modernize these systems, which will improve the timeliness and quality of vital statistics data. Our modernization efforts to date have resulted in faster annual data releases, as well as new programs that provide estimates that can be used for public health surveillance.

Results of Modernizing Vital Statistics

Weekly Pneumonia and Influenza (P&I) Mortality Surveillance

Monthly Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts

Quarterly Provisional Estimates for Birth and Selected Causes of Death

Annual final data released in under a year

By applying technological solutions that are modern, connected, and capable, we have realized notable improvements in the timeliness and quality of national vital statistics data.

Improvements in Timeliness

Provisional, rapid estimates on select birth indicators, infant mortality, and select causes of death are available through our Vital Statistics Rapid Release program

Final death data released in less than a year – down from a previous average of two years

Provisional birth estimates produced in 5 months, with final data released in nine months

Linked data available sooner – linked birth/infant death files have been modified to allow a single file release to be used for both period and cohort analyses

Improvements in Quality

More specific-drug information related to overdose deaths collected from written text on the death certificate (literal text)

Electronic, front-end validation system sends alerts when a piece of information is incorrect or unusual

Underperforming items dropped from the national birth and fetal death files

Online trainings and mobile app guide medical certifiers in filling out death certificates

Vital Statistics Reporting Guidance publication series

Standardized trainings and resources in multiple formats help with reporting birth and fetal death information

Modernizing Death Data: Goals and Progress

Projects to modernize death data are underway across our nation. The National Center for Health Statistics set ambitious goals for the timeliness and quality of death data:                                       

  • To receive at least 80% of mortality records within 10 days of the event
  • To receive records on at least 90% of drug-overdose deaths within 90 days of the date of the event
  • To improve the quality of information by using nationally approved standards to exchange vital data electronically

In 2010, NCHS was receiving only 7% of mortality records within 10 days of the event.

By 2018, that number had risen to almost 60%.

  • Faster data releases: The time between when we receive the data and when we release the final file (lag time) is also decreasing – from almost two years (or more) to less than one year. 
  • More accurate information: Electronic systems can validate information as it is being entered and send an alert when a piece of information is incorrect or unusual. The validation process makes data more accurate and can help with surveillance for infections, rare diseases, and other causes of death.
  • More complete information: The actual text that is written into the death certificate by a certifier is increasingly being used to provide deeper insight into the circumstances around a death and is maximizing our ability to capture specific-drug information related to the opioid crisis.
Page last reviewed: October 1, 2020