Ohio Department Of Health Changes How COVID-19 Deaths Are Counted

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The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) is making major changes to the system it uses for recording COVID-19 deaths, weeks after the discovery that more than 4,000 pandemic-related deaths were not properly recorded

Starting Tuesday, ODH will rely on death certificates after they have been reviewed and coded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Stephanie McCloud, the state agency’s director.

“It’s very reliable. It will be automated. It will have quality assurance checks on that automated process but it will be somewhat delayed," McCloud said.

The agency has been manually counting COVID-19 deaths through a reconciliation process in an effort to get those numbers out to the public faster, McCloud said Tuesday. But that process was fraught with human error, she said.

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the chief medical officer for ODH, used a diagram to explain the reconciliation process, which involved the agency’s employees taking steps to speed up the reporting.

“There is going to be some fluctuation in deaths as we make the transition,” Vanderhoff said. “We're moving from one system to another. The data will be accurate, but it could fluctuate.”

“Deaths will no longer be listed as probable because all deaths will be confirmed as Covid 19 deaths based on the appropriate ICD-10 coding,” Vanderhoff said.

McCloud said as a result of the new process, Ohio’s COVID-19 daily death totals will go down temporarily, while the agency waits for death certificates to backfill the numbers. But while the figures will be delayed, they will be more accurate, she said.

“The program is outdated. It was slated to begin being updated and changed at the time the pandemic hit. It still needs to be updated,” McCloud said. “Less manual entry, less manual opportunities for issues, rely more on technology and the human part will be quality assurance.;

McCloud said the exact cost of the improvements is unknown as ODH will begin the process by working with state administrative services. And not all of the changes will come at once, she said.

The state is also making changes to its various COVID-19 dashboards, using more specific categories regarding locations of cases and deaths.

ODH restructured its infectious disease division and launched an investigation last month, following the discovery of errors and unreported COVID-19 deaths. One epidemiologist has resigned and several other staffers have been reassigned.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

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