The Role of Vital Records Management During COVID-19

The Role of Vital Records Management During COVID-19

Vital Statistic Data and the Government

Vital statistic data has always played an important role in government. It aids in “monitoring developing health threats- from preterm births to deaths from drug overdoses, flu, and most recently, COVID-19,” according to the CDC.

At the state level, vital data is relied upon by public health agencies’ researchers, epidemiologists, clinicians, policymakers, working to save lives. Families rely on vital record agencies to document births, deaths, and marriages. Overall, state governments need vital statistics to inform strategies for protecting the health of their communities.

NYC’s eVital Project

At the beginning of the opioid crisis, immediate access to statistical data turned out to be even more necessary. As the crisis grew and evolved, the need for more rapid reporting of the overdose deaths, including the drugs involved, became critical information as the state and local governments nationwide began to shift efforts to respond to this critical health crisis. The necessity for accurate and timely vital statistic data was recognized by the NYC health department, and in 2014 they launched the NYC eVital project to modernize their vital records management system into something more secure and mobile enabled that would provide real-time, important health data to the community and decision makers.

The list of enhancements and changes that needed to be made to the web-based legacy system were significant. Voyatek, in partnership with New York City’s Bureau of Vital Statistics was tasked with designing, developing, and implementing the new digital reporting and document management service which is critical for the reporting, registration, processing, and analysis of all vital events (births, deaths, and spontaneous and induced terminations of pregnancy) in New York City. It also issues certified copies of birth and death certificates as well as newborn registrations. EVital went live in 2018 and changed how New York City’s Bureau of Vital Statistics operates and serves the city of NY.

Then, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. It brought to light the importance of good, quality real-time data to accommodate the changing environment of vital records management within eVital. Voyatek’s Chief Product Officer Rahul Puri, sat down with Gretchen Van Wye, Assistant Commissioner of Vital Records for NYC, to discuss her team’s experiences with the modernization of vital records during a global pandemic.

Vital Records & the Pandemic

Pre-covid, “In any given year, NYC would see on average 100,000 people in their normal fulfillment lobby where they issue certificates (birth/death), and tens of thousands more in their lobby where they do corrections,” according to Van Wye. “Talking to people and understanding their pain points helped shape the features and functionality of e-Vital, including their new customer portal making it easier to request hard copy birth/death certificates online rather than standing in the fulfillment lobby. When we make our customers lives easier, it in turn makes our lives easier,” said Van Wye.

It became clear at the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020, that the needs of their multiple user community were shifting and the focus of the eVital platform needed to shift as well. The importance of providing transparent, real-time vital record data became critical as political leaders needed to make decisions and navigate the public through the pandemic. Addressing the mass fatalities that the city was facing became crucial from a vital records perspective.

While the purpose of eVital may have changed, the need for the system became even more apparent, it became the new way for New Yorkers’ and decision makers to get data. Because the data in eVital is extracted daily into the NYC mortality surveillance system, Voyatek was able to make some tweaks to the system to obtain real-time mortality statistics which became widely used to monitor COVID deaths. “COVID brought us back to our roots in the world of vital records and vital statistics, it’s really pointed out how important it is to get good quality data on deaths and that’s what our system has allowed us to do,” said Van Wye. “We worked really hard with our surveillance and epidemiology team to have situational awareness and be as responsive as possible so we could give everyone the information they needed to respond to the situation on the ground. We were in constant communication with funeral directors and hospitals- the WHO and the National Health Center for Health Statistics developed guidance for classifying COVID deaths early on and we were able to share that with all of our users, in real-time communication.”

NYC’s eVital system scaled effectively during COVID, (when there was an unprecedented increase in the number of death certificates that needed processing), earning it a 2021 LocalSmart award for Local IT Innovation of the Year- a program that highlights the inspirational people and projects making city, county, and municipal governments better.

The Future of eVital

Being able to provide accurate mortality data through the eVital platform was pivotal for NYC government leaders when making decisions during the pandemic. “Moving away from the pandemic, what do you see as the role of vital records and this data?” asked Puri. According to Van Wye, “Making it easier for doctors and funeral homes to report births & deaths and digitizing certificates (birth/death) are something to strive towards, as well as providing critical health data within an area to the community. Understanding the health of a community and being able to adjust resources based on real-time data and prediction models is critical. We will continue to develop and prioritize the eVital system to ensure that our entire user community has access to the important data that they need and that it is readily accessible when they need it.”

The success of eVital prior to, and during the pandemic, solidifies the importance of vital records and vital statistics and the impact they can have within their communities.

-Voyatek Leadership Team