The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic continues to evolve, causing the loss of at least 890 000 infected persons globally and 175 000 in the United States in the first eight months since its recognition.
Many deaths are likely to be attributable to indirect consequences of the pandemic, including those associated with disruptions in health care systems that delay indicated screening tests and immunizations, impede monitoring and treatment of chronic conditions, and discourage proper maternal and perinatal care. In response to the recognition that death certificates were fraught with inaccuracies and inconsistencies across jurisdictions, the NCHS assumed responsibility for coding the cause of death included in the national data sets beginning in 2011.
In recent years, NCHS has made provisional data and special reports available to improve access to information before data sets are finalized and locked. The best opportunity is to evolve artificial intelligence algorithms that prepopulate death certificates with existing electronic health record data and provide decision support to the physicians responsible for determining the cause of death.
Near-real-time reporting systems that facilitate detection and monitoring of emerging health threats, including pandemics and natural disasters, would become a reality before the existing gaps are forced once again into the center stage during the next crisis.
Our National vital statistics are key to our nation’s health and emergency preparedness systems. It is time we commit to investing accordingly.