National Vital Statistics System

Why Modernization Matters 

Image of data

Timely, high quality vital statistics data are needed now more than ever

New Challenges, New Tools

Public health continually faces new demands and expectations for data. The fact is that our nation’s health challenges are always shifting, and vital statistics data need to be available for quick response.

For example, as the opioid crisis grew and evolved, we needed more rapid reporting of overdose deaths. We also needed better information on specific drugs involved in deaths, beyond what the ICD-10 coding system would allow. Along with the expanding crisis came a need to connect better with state surveillance systems. Requests came in for NCHS to provide cause-of-death information more quickly and efficiently. We directed our efforts toward answering these needs.

In early 2020, our nation faced and unforeseen and unprecedented crisis. When COVID-19 struck, death reporting systems were called upon to meet the urgent needs of a novel pandemic. This is why modernizing vital statistics matters: what we do now makes us ready for whatever comes next.

Modernizing the National Vital Statistics System:

  • Improves health
  • Reduces costs
  • Strengthens national security
  • Increases resilience to outbreaks, disasters, and other emergencies

At the same time, advances in technology have created better tools to capture and share data. Applying these technologies can reduce the time it takes to process and analyze vital records and improve the quality of the information they contain. Together, we can harness these advancements to make vital statistics more complete and more responsive to the needs of our nation.

Data for Action

Vital statistics data are used to identify and respond to critical health events, as well as to monitor trends in birth and death over time. Faster and more frequent data releases can help signal changes in trends and offer investigators clues about emerging public health events. When a public health matter is urgent, whether it’s flu, suicide, drug overdose deaths, COVID-19, or anything else, the National Vital Statistics System must provide data as rapidly as possible to inform the response.

Through our modernization efforts to date, we are:

  • Moving vital information faster. We are building a broad community to implement new technologies, like FHIR, that create interoperability across our nation’s systems.
  • Improving data quality. We offer guidance, training, technology, and support to make birth and death data more accurate and complete.
  • Informing emergency response. We are releasing data that can be used for public health surveillance and response through quarterly and special reports and preliminary estimates that are made available in advance of our final data releases.
  • Doing more with the information we receive. We are applying methods to better analyze the data we have available, such as mining information from the written (literal) cause of death text on the death certificate.

Vital data are relied upon by researchers, epidemiologists, clinicians, policymakers, and many others working to save lives. At a personal level, families need vital records for their loved ones. At the national level, vital statistics data guide investments in health and help measure their success. Jurisdictions need vital statistics to inform immediate and long-term strategies to protect the health of their communities.

Modernizing the NVSS is key to strengthening the public health infrastructure so that we can continue to provide the best and most complete information on populations and health outcomes.