National Vital Statistics System

Revisions of the U.S. Standard Certificates and Reports

In the years leading up to 2003, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) collaborated with colleagues in state vital statistics offices to revise the U.S. Standard Certificates of Live Birth and Death, and the U.S. Standard Report of Fetal Death. This process is conducted periodically; prior to 2003, the most recent revisions were implemented in 1989. The 2003 revisions were approved by the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary (see: HHS Secretary’s notice of approval [PDF – 59 KB]) and implementation began in a few states in 2003. Because of financial and other considerations, implementation was phased in over time for the remaining states, and the birth certificate was fully implemented in all states in 2016 and the death certificate and report of fetal death in 2018.

A critical component of the recommendations for the 2003 revisions focused on fundamental changes in the way that data were collected, especially for births. Partly as a result of these recommendations, states engaged in re-engineering their vital statistics systems as they implemented the revisions.

The complex process involved in revising the content of the standard certificates and reports is described in the Executive Summary of the Report of the Panel to Evaluate the U.S. Standard Certificates and Reports [PDF – 2 MB]. Many of the documents shown below on this page have been updated to incorporate changes made during the clearance and approval processes.


2003 Revisions of the U.S. Standard Certificates and Reports


Specifications for Collecting and Editing the U.S. Standard Certificates and Reports

The specifications for collecting and editing the U.S. standard certificates of live birth and death and the Report of Fetal Death (2003 revisions) have now been updated to reflect the changes made during the HHS clearance process as well as changes recommended by the Data Analysis Committee.

As part of the revision process, NCHS has developed sets of detailed specifications for collecting and reporting the items on the birth and death certificates and fetal death report. It is critical that all registration areas follow these standards as closely as possible to promote uniformity in data collection across registration areas. Included with the draft specifications is an overview. The overview gives the rationale behind the approaches taken to develop the specifications.

File layouts that are consistent with the final approved certificates and the code lists for race and Hispanic origin are also available.



NCHS is strongly promoting the use of standard worksheets to enhance the collection of quality, reliable data. We have also developed handbooks and guides for data collection from the facility worksheets for the birth certificate and the fetal death report.



A number of communications have been transmitted by the Division of Vital Statistics to state registration colleagues since late 2000 concerning the implementation of the revised certificates. See: Letters from the Division of Vital Statistics (DVS) to States.