Vital Statistics

Vital statistics are the most accurate and complete data collected on the American population, and yet there are still many errors in the information submitted. What are some possible sources of error in records collected on births, deaths, spontaneous fetal deaths, and induced abortions?

The collection of comprehensive information of vital statistics is a challenge. A variety of factors play a role in the errors found in records of the American population. Some of these could be barriers to registration of an event, a failure to capture all the information of a birth or a death, inconsistent data forms, lack of clear roles and responsibilities, and delays in production of statistics.

The registration of a vital event, in either a birth or a death, is dependent on individuals or families. If the process is cumbersome, difficult or seems to be unpleasant, then families will fail to register such vital events resulting in inconsistent statistics. In rural or remote areas, there may be too few points to registration which may lead to costly or long journeys to register. This barrier is only made worse if more than one trip is required to complete the registration process.

From a public health perspective, information gathered outside of what is needed to take care of legal matters or administrative purposes is crucial. Routine information would be such things like name, sex, nationality, etc. Public health professionals require information that would surround the circumstances of a birth or death, to include cause of death. Useful public health information includes birth weight, prematurity, birth deformity, birth order (for multiple births), method of delivery and any complications. Cause-of-death information is vital for determining the burden of disease across the population. If this information is not fed into the national system through a standard process, information is lost or not counted.

Inconsistent data forms at various levels could be a...