Awards Promote Data Modernization for Medical Examiners and Coroners

Medical examiners and coroners, or medicolegal death investigators (MDI), conduct investigations to understand the cause and circumstance of sudden death. They play a critical role by reporting data that informs public health response to crises like overdose fatalities, suicides and other violent deaths.

To foster innovation and support their efforts, the CDC Foundation partnered with the CDC’s Collaborating Office for Medical Examiners and Coroners (COMEC) to award $1,122,496 to nine medical examiner and coroner offices. This funding, awarded in October 2023, supports the development of novel pathways for data systems to connect and exchange information, advancing MDI data modernization.

Seven of the nine MDI offices were funded as a second cohort implementing projects to exchange electronic data using a set of rules and specifications known as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR®). Two MDI offices were awarded a two-year grant, with funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, to promote data exchange, quality and timeliness that enhance the ability to address the overdose crisis.

Recently funded sites include:

These sites, combined with the first cohort of seven sites, funded in March 2023, brings the total investment in MDI offices to over $1,800,000 across sixteen sites. All funded sites are participating in MDI Connect, a collaboration for the offices to learn, share and test solutions with the goal of developing reusable and scalable tools. MDI Connect encourages practitioners to share knowledge, skills and methods to spur collaboration and iteration among its community.

In virtual events, MDI offices and Case Management System (CMS) vendors test bidirectional exchange between data systems across a range of organizations (e.g., electronic death registration, public health surveillance, toxicology laboratories). Interconnected data systems strengthen data collection, structure and storage, improving the efficiency of medicolegal death investigation systems. During this process, funded sites follow guidance in the MDI FHIR® implementation guide and provide recommendations for future use.

The lessons learned from these projects are informing a broader set of data modernization efforts led by CDC. Together, CDC, CDC Foundation and MDI Connect provide a supportive environment for sites to generate insights and develop resources for widespread adoption among MDI offices across the country. Ultimately, MDI offices are strengthening their ability to understand causes of death, report that information to families and to inform prevention efforts.

This project is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $1,256,478.00 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS or the U.S. Government. The Medicolegal Death Investigation Data Modernization Initiatives project is also supported by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to the CDC Foundation.

The Medicolegal Death Investigation Data Modernization Initiatives project is also supported by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to the CDC Foundation.

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Anna Barnes, MPH, is a Senior Program Officer overseeing projects designed to improve overdose prevention data collecting and reporting and support medical examiner and coroner offices in strengthening their death investigation data systems.