New birth, death reporting system could help Texas with crafting policies

State & Regional

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas’ health officials are rolling out a new system for more accurate birth and death reporting and some doctors in the state are hopeful; it will better inform the decisions they make about public health. 

“Something we’ve really come to understand more over the last few years is that in Texas, as in the United States, there’s an issue with the quality of death data,” Texas Department of State Health Services spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said.

In April 2018, health officials learned the maternal mortality rate from 2012 was less than half of what old data suggested – 56 deaths compared to the originally reported number of 147. 

“It’s very important to get accurate information,” Dr. Phil Huang from the Austin Public Health Department said. “In public health, death certificate data is one of the key pieces of information we really use to see what problems are going on in the community, what trends we’re seeing.” 

The breakdown of information is critical while crafting solutions to improve public health. 

“We use it all the time for identifying – what are the leading causes of death?” Huang said. “Then it also helps us identify which geographical areas might have higher rates of death, a particular illness or a condition, which demographic groups might be having higher rates of mortality related to a particular condition, seeing racial differences or if it’s affecting people of certain ages.” 

“You think of maternal mortality, drug-related deaths, deaths from chronic disease, heart disease, diabetes, those kinds of things, the better data we have, the better we’re able to design a strategy to counteract those things,” Van Deusen said. 

The new Texas Electronic Vital Events Registrar, or TxEVER, system goes online Jan. 1, 2019. Van Deusen says it will have more checks in place. 

“It’s going to stop and say, are you sure, you’ve selected that the woman was pregnant when she died, is that correct,” he said. “Just another backstop like that that’s going to hopefully improve the quality of death records.” 

Huang says he hopes down the road, access to accurate information will help getting information produced sooner. 

“One of the things we’re hoping to see is that the data will be more available sooner after it’s reported, because now it sometimes takes two years,” he said. “We’re behind two years in terms of looking at the data, so if we can get that turned around more quickly, then that will really be useful for everyone.” 

The Texas Department of State Health Services’ Vital Statistics Section will hold a series of trainings on the new system to ensure all stakeholders understand what’s involved in the reporting process. Webinars and in-person training with Justices of the Peace, doctors, funeral homes, medical examiners and physicians will help get officials up to speed.  
 

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