New state death registry leads to better reporting, improved health policy

Autopsy room at the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office. (KXAN Photo/Sarah Rafique)
Autopsy room at the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office. (KXAN Photo/Sarah Rafique)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some physicians fear the state may be missing more vital public health information because the state’s current death registry reporting system needs a major upgrade. Some believe the key to helping more Texans stay alive and thrive may be better record keeping for those who have died.

“It’s a really important system that we get it right,” said Austin/Travis County Public Health Medical Director Dr. Phil Huang.

The leading cause of death in Austin used to be heart disease. Now, it is lung cancer. Doctors discovered that trend a few years ago using death records.

Starting this same time next year, the state will roll out a new computerized system called TxEVER. Dr. Huang says reporting physicians will be able to leave more detailed information.

And, it could allow several doctors to report on one death. The current system requires attending doctors to complete death records, which could boost the chances of mistakes.

“Sometimes the person certifying the death may not know the real history in as much detail as another physician that might be taking care of the patient,” Dr. Huang said.

Better death records could also help reduce the number of pregnancy-related deaths in Texas. The state has the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world. A task force has been working to curb that since 2013. And, more details on what is killing new mothers could lead to new solutions.

The state is asking doctors to submit their ideas on how the new system should work.

When the death data is correct, it can paint a clear portrait of Central Texas’s overall health, Dr. Huang said.

“For us in public health, we’re diagnosing the health of the community by looking at this data and monitoring it and making sure if there’s something that spikes that we investigate it,” he said.

Dr. Huang said something else they may be able to better track with the new reporting system: flu-related deaths among children. Right now, it is not a reportable condition but the health department monitors it. In Travis County, the number of flu deaths among adults this season is up from 11 to 16.

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