Researchers now have a simpler, more effective way to access data from Minnesota death certificate records, with the launch of a new database from the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). CTSI will fulfill requests for death certificate record data at no charge to researchers, registries, and transplant databases at the University of Minnesota and Fairview.
The database houses the complete death record issued from 2011 to present (for deaths as recent as two months ago) for deceased individuals who were born in Minnesota, have died in Minnesota, or have ever had a permanent address in the state. CTSI collaborated with the Minnesota Department of Health to create this database, and tested it against University health data repositories to validate accuracy and help maximize its value to investigators.
"Historically, getting access to death records took a lot of time, money, and resources. Plus, it wasn't uncommon for the data itself to be incomplete or outdated, as databases would sometimes exclude records from the past few years," says Russell Luepker, MD, MS, a member of CTSI's Biomedical Informatics steering committee. "Now, researchers can quickly access up-to-date, accurate death data, with the support of dedicated informatics experts - all at no cost to them."
Researchers request this data simply by filling out an online form, which CTSI uses to generate a customized, cleaned-up dataset that's tailored to an investigator's needs. For example, a researcher could request data only from the death records, which does not require IRB approval. Or, to get a more complete picture, they could request a dataset that combines data from both death records and patient records. Patient data is extracted from CTSI's clinical data repository, which houses the electronic medical records of more than 2 million patients and can be leveraged by University and Fairview researchers at no cost to them.
"Understanding who died, and why is critical to researchers who are looking for better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat health issues," says Bonnie Westra, PhD, RN, Co-chair of CTSI's Architecture and Informatics Committee. "The information provided by death certificate records is valuable to a wide range of research studies, and can be used in a variety of ways, from better understanding health issues to more sensitively recruiting prior patients to join studies without the risk of contacting the families of deceased individuals."
Minnesota death certificates include demographic data, such as an individual's name, gender, social security number, birth date, and date of death, as well as data about the circumstances of their death, such as the cause, site, and any external causes revealed by an autopsy.