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3 Benefits of Modernizing Vital Records Management

Modernizing vital records management systems is essential for states not only during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also for increasing transparency and ease of access for constituents.

illustration electronic health care
Shutterstock/elenabsl
Public health executives continually face new demands and expectations for data. While vital records data might not be the first thing you think of in a public health crisis, it is critical when formulating a quick response. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have made timely and accurate death reporting a key priority during the current COVID-19 pandemic. When COVID-19 first struck, states were met with an unprecedented number of death certificates that required processing. States needed to quickly, efficiently and securely process vital records data to meet the needs of their constituents, while also providing timely data to the CDC to inform federal response teams.

Federal funding is flowing directly to states for these types of modernization projects, and almost 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 with an eye toward timely and accurate reporting, fraud prevention and constituent customer service. Let’s take a closer look at each.

TIMELY AND ACCURATE REPORTING


Reporting births and deaths in a timely manner has always been important, but COVID-19 has increased the urgency. Once a COVID-19 death is reported, that data must be provided to the CDC within 72 hours. When electronic systems are not in place, timely and accurate reporting represents a substantial 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 don’t have proper rules in place for data, a back-and-forth with the provider may be required, which wastes precious 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 errors.

FRAUD PREVENTION


Certification is an important part of vital records management. It’s crucial to have a process in place to ensure records are authentic. For birth certificates, the doctor who was a part of the birth certifies the record. In the past, the doctor would just check a box in the system, with no audit or verification required. Modernization adds a layer of verification, using biometrics to ensure the right doctor is certifying the case — not just any user with access to the system. It also makes this process easier by letting doctors certify cases through a mobile app, hence significantly speeding up the process. This process can also be used by doctors or funeral home directors for certifying death records.

Fraud prevention doesn’t stop there, though. For any certification that gets printed, there is a bond paper, which holds the same value as actual currency paper. If the wrong person gets hold of the paper, all types of fraud can happen. Historically, tracking security paper has been done outside the VRMS using a cumbersome manual paper trail. With a modernized system, anyone can track security paper from the minute it enters the agency to the minute it leaves. With the click of a button, someone can see where papers are, how they’ve been used, why they were voided, etc.

BETTER CUSTOMER SERVICE FOR CONSTITUENTS


It’s not just the CDC that needs official records of births and deaths. Constituents need them as well. Until a family member receives the death certificate, they can’t proceed with any funeral arrangements. Modernization simplifies the process of not just ordering a certificate, but also checking on its status. Constituents can simply go to a website, type in unique information, make a request or see the status of a previous request. If there are issues, that can be communicated through the portal as well, 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, as opposed to having to make phone calls and wait for a response.

MAKING MODERNIZATION A REALITY


Modernizing a VRMS can seem like a daunting task, and many states are worried about change. Some lack the money, time or commitment to modernize their whole system — particularly since that requires getting tens of thousands of users on board. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reap these benefits. Modernization can take place incrementally. A single mobile app, for instance, can help with fraud prevention without requiring a complete overhaul of the back-end system. Perhaps you modernize the death module first and then gradually build on 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 GCOM, a leading provider of cutting-edge technology solutions. Viren has more than 20 years of IT project development and delivery experience. Over the past eight years, Viren has operated in the Vital Records domain - leading Vital Records transformation projects for various state and city clients. Viren received his MBA from Binghamton University, New York, and his BS in Computer Science from Dr. D. Y. Patil Institute of Technology in India.
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