21 December 2012

Moving death certificates to the digital age: Unintended consequences

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You may have noticed that when you now visit a doctor’s office your prescription is sent electronically to the pharmacy and the doctor enters notes into a tablet computer.  I’ve found similar as I recently visited my dentist (no paper file anymore) and my eye doctor.

And, to be honest, I’ve heard a lot of griping about having to use such a system.  Mostly having to do with the time needed to accurately enter the information and select the proper procedure codes (to guarantee payment) etc.  Though, there are benefits to having such records available electronically, especially to easily see your history or share it as needed.

Well, I recently read an article talking about some of the unintended consequences of death certificates also moving to the digital age!  I know that you were wondering when I would get to genealogy and history research!  Well, as genealogists, death (and birth and marriage) records are very important records!  Future researchers will be impacted by “what” death certificates look like in the future just as we are affected by those we acquire for our research.

The recent article starts out ...

Moving from paper death certificates to an online process called the Washington State Electronic Death Registry System, or EDRS. Sounds like a simple 21st century process that should make the process of completing a death certificate faster and easier right?  Oh, the government designed the system.  Oops.

I’ve been so frustrated by the unintended consequences of a new state governmental process for completing death certificates...

... All I needed to do was remove the discussion of the trauma from the EDRS form and the computer program could allow it to be accepted.

This is clearly silly. Everyone knew that trauma played a role.  In a paper world the medical examiner could have just signed off on the death certificate and all would have been fine.  Now as an unintended consequence of the inflexible nature of this EDRS program, it seems we just have to be selective in our choices of contributing factors on the death certificate so that families can bury their dead and the computer programmers can have the answers they want.  I had been told that the new electronic form was to insure more accurate and complete death certificates.  It seems that the result is that only answers the program likes are acceptable causes and contributing factors to death...


What do you think? Will our descendants get a less complete picture of how we died? Or is the level of detail we are talking about just not significant?

Have you come across other “modern” electronic forms whose restrictions have frustrated you with regards to accurately and completely capturing information of interest to descendants?



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