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The Effects of Inadequate Training in Vital Statistics

It can go without saying that to accurately and efficiently use a new system, process, equipment, etc., the user has to be TRAINED on how to do so. While we all understand this logically in our minds, it has been seen throughout various industries that the training element is often overlooked, to sometimes disastrous results.

The Vital Records offices across the U.S. are no exception, and in that arena specifically, the lack of training starts early on. For example, the correct way to enter vital statistics (births, deaths, etc.) is typically not taught in medical school, so once someone becomes a licensed physician they have to take the time to learn how to correctly enter said data themselves. Given their schedules and other job demands, they often don’t bother to do so. Additionally, as with any industry, the correct way to enter the data for vital events is constantly evolving, but what the new/correct methodology is often is not relayed to those actually entering the data (i.e. physicians, funeral home directors, etc.). These factors, as well as others, mean that the data is often either entered inaccurately and/or entered much later than set timelines “allow.”

One example is that many individuals don’t realize there are national standards set forth by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) that outline timelines for when birth, death, and other vital events must be reported. A death, for instance, must be reported to NCHS within 10 days of the date of death, and that timeline includes the physicians signing off on the cause of death, the funeral home signing off on the demographic portion of the certificate, and the Vital Records offices registering the death certificate, then submitting the record to NCHS after registration. If someone, albeit inadvertently, causes a delay in this because of inaccurate or mistaken data being entered, a spiral of re-approvals, corrections, and so on can cause the certificate to be submitted far after the 10-day mark.

The lack of training and miscommunication of policies and needs in the Vital Record arena, like the example outlined above, often cause a myriad of negative effects for all parties involved, including the public.

For example, delay in the delivery of data means that it becomes less useful in disease prevention, can cause skewed statistics, and so on. Additionally, a lack of training for physicians and funerals homes means that they have to take valuable time out of their day to try and work on a system they don’t know, when a simple training course could have saved them time and effort. This frustration in turn often causes them to not see or understand the VALUE and importance of entering the vital data in a timely and accurate fashion, causing further friction and frustration from all ends of the Vital Records spectrum (state offices to physicians to the CDC and others).

Lack of training also has an impact on people’s daily lives, frequently in the most difficult of times. Let me give you a real-world example: a state recently rolled out a new software designed to make the process of acquiring death and birth certificates easier by having them online (rather than having to physically go to the government office to receive the documents). The launch of this new system happened quickly, even though many individuals, including funeral home directors, asked for it to slow down as they didn’t feel adequately trained or prepared to continue business without delays. In the rush to have a better system, the launch went ahead as planned, and the initial results were far from perfect. As the funeral home directors feared, they experienced many issues, including inability to operate the new system and computer glitches (not on their end), that caused a delay in their ability to acquire death certificates. This left dozens of grieving families who had just lost a loved one high and dry; they had to be told they couldn’t move forward with burial and memorial services, since a death certificate was required to do so.

In this instance, the point is not to place blame, but to focus on the fact that a lack of training causes countless issues on many levels and to many different types of individuals, including causing extended heartache and trouble for families and individuals who are already going through very trying times.

It is important that those in the Health and Vital Statistic world quickly grasp that it is much more beneficial to be proactive than reactive, specifically around training. Being productive, efficient, and at the forefront of an industry starts with being well versed and trained in the technologies, systems, and processes needed, as well as ensuring communication is passed down to everyone involved. By investing a small amount of time and money to add training, savings will be realized by hospitals, funeral homes, state and national government offices, and the public will be happier and healthier.


Computer glitch leaves grieving Valley families waiting to hold funerals | Sonu Wasu

The Importance of Vital Records and Statistics for the Obstetrician-Gynecologist | ACOG

The U.S. Vital Statistics System: The Role of State and Local Health Departments | Steven Schwartz

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