Vitally Important: Strengthening the Nation’s Vital Record/Health Statistics Infrastructure through Public Health Accreditation
Vital records are essential to tracking life expectancy, creating effective public health programs in communities, and providing foundational data necessary to perform critical public health functions. Vital records capture life’s most critical moments by recording and translating data into health statistics used to inform morbidity, mortality, and health outcome trends among local, state, and national agencies, as well as researchers.
Recognizing the important role of Vital Records/Health Statistics Units, the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) developed a voluntary Vital Records/Health Statistics (VRHS) Accreditation Program in 2018, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and Partnerships and Performance Improvement Branch, as well as the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS). Given that the collection of vital records, including information on births, deaths, and other life events is the legal responsibility of states and territories, not the federal government, PHAB’s VRHS Accreditation Program focuses on supporting the 57 jurisdictional areas identified by the NCHS within the National Vital Statistics Collaborative. Eligible applicants include the 50 States, District of Columbia, New York City, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Since the program’s launch, PHAB has accredited five (5) VRHS Units: the South Dakota Department of Health, Office of Vital Records, Arizona Department of Health Services, Bureau of Vital Records, Florida Bureau of Health Statistics, Iowa Department of Health, Bureau of Health Statistics, and Wyoming Department of Health, Vital Statistics Services. Beyond these five, four additional jurisdictions are registered or in the process of achieving national accreditation.
Over the years, PHAB, in collaboration with partners, has advanced the evidence-base of accreditation by collecting analytical data from jurisdictions during the accreditation process, as well as hosting VRHS think tank sessions, focus groups, and interviews to engage with the field on the benefits and impact of accreditation. According to accredited units1, as well as those actively and not actively pursuing accreditation, the top anticipated and actual benefits of pursuing accreditation include:
- Increases awareness of the VRHS Unit’s strengths and opportunities for improvement.
- Increases Quality Improvement (QI) and performance improvement opportunities.
- Identifies gaps in policies, processes, and protocols not currently in place and needed.
The strongest motivators for pursuing accreditation were identified as:
- A commitment to quality improvement.
- Internal VRHS unit leadership championed accreditation.
- A desire to be an early adopter and/or leader in the field.
- The state health department achieved accreditation.
As one VRHS jurisdiction noted, “We wanted to be more organized. We wanted to adopt leading industry standards. We wanted to make sure our public health department leadership team was happy. We wanted to achieve accreditation because they did, and it has actually helped to improve our public health department. Because they’ve improved, we want to improve, too!”
The VRHS Accreditation Standards & Measures focus on seven topic areas: Registration, Security, Issuance, Data Collection, Data Transmission and Reporting, VRHS Workforce, and Administration and Management. Through the VRHS Accreditation Program, PHAB continues to build a stronger infrastructure in alignment with NCHS and NAPHSIS to preserve the integrity, security, and accuracy of our nation’s health statistics data. Recent developments within the program focus on incorporating data modernization to streamline the efficiency and accuracy of data transmission from local to state and national levels.
For more information, visit PHAB’s Vital Records/Health Statistics (VRHS) Accreditation Program website or email PHAB at askPHAB@phaboard.org.
1 Clarus Research and Amplify for Change (April 18, 2022). Vital Records/Health Statistics (VRHS) Unit Accreditation Study. Commissioned by the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) and National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Brittan Williams is an Accreditation Specialist at the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB). She manages the process for assigned applicants through the accreditation process, which includes reviewing and assessing documentation against the Standards & Measures, assisting with trainings, serving as a technical resource, guiding site visit teams, conducting site visits, and communicating between key stakeholders. Brittan is also responsible for managing the pool of volunteer site visitors. Prior to joining PHAB, Brittan was the Accreditation Administrator for the North Carolina Local Health Department Accreditation program at the North Carolina Institute for Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives in Concord, North Carolina, and holds a Master of Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.