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Data Collection Overview

National Coronial Information System (NCIS)

Data Collection Sources

Data are collated from state and territory Coroners’ Offices for all reportable deaths.

Institutional environments

The NCIS is an initiative of the Australasian Coroners Society, and is maintained by the Victorian Department of Justice on behalf of the NCIS Board of Management. The NCIS is a national, internet-based data storage and retrieval system for Australian and New Zealand coronial cases. All deaths reported to an Australian coroner since July 2000 (January 2001 in Queensland) have been entered into the NCIS, while New Zealand data is available from July 2007 onwards. The NCIS is funded by a range of Australian Federal and State/Territory agencies, and the New Zealand Ministry of Justice.
The role of the NCIS is to assist coroners in their role as death investigators (by providing them with the ability to review previous coronial cases that may be similar in nature to current investigations), and providing access to coronial material to approved government and research agencies. The provision of coronial data to Coroners, government and researchers enhances the ability of these groups to identify and address systematic hazards within the community. Usually a police officer or a medical practitioner will notify the Coroner of any death that may be a 'reportable’ death. It is open however, to any person to notify the Coroner if they believe that a reportable death has occurred.
Data entry is performed at each of the coroners’ offices into local case management systems by coronial clerks. Data from these case management systems is uploaded to the NCIS on a regular basis (in most cases nightly). Full text documents are either attached to the local case management systems by the coroner’s courts, or transferred directly to the NCIS from the originating organisation (e.g. Post-mortem reports from the Forensic Science Centre). The Coroners clerks use the information contained within the coronial file as the basis for their data entry. All information transferred to the NCIS is performed in accordance with State and Federal Privacy legislation.
Each of the states and territories has a licensed agreement with the Victorian Department of Justice that permits the transfer of coronial information for storage and dissemination via the NCIS. Each state and territory also has its own Act, which governs the powers and duties of the Coroner.
NCIS is continually working to obtain as many documents in electronic format as possible. Regional reports are sometimes only available in a paper form, and some laboratory systems may not yet be able to transfer their reports electronically. ICD-10 codes are provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and particular work related coding is provided by Safe Work Australia. Additional data fields arising from other projects involving the national police form and drugs module may also be added to the NCIS data set in the future.

Relevance and Scope

What constitutes a ‘reportable death’ varies by jurisdiction. Although the following list is not exhaustive, in general, a death must be reported to a Coroner in the following instances:
• where the person died unexpectedly and the cause of death is unknown,
• where the person died in a violent or unnatural manner,
• where the person died during or as a result of an anaesthetic,
• where the person was ‘held in care’ or in custody immediately before they died,
• where a doctor has been unable to sign a death certificate giving the cause of death, or
• where the identity of the person who has died is not known.
The NCIS contains a set of core data elements that are mandatory for each state and territory to complete.
Note that the NCIS only contains information on the decedent. For exmple, if the baby dies but the mother lives, information is only held on the baby.

Timeliness

Several reports are published using NCIS data. The NCIS Annual Report is published each year which provides information such as recorded usage of the NCIS database. This is published around October of each year, four months after the end of the data collection period.
Another publication is Fatal Facts, which summarises all coronial recommendations that have been uploaded to the NCIS. Fatal Facts and NCIS Annual Reports are available online from http://www.ncis.org.au/.

Accuracy

The main role of the NCIS Quality Assurance Team is to identify best practice as well as deficiencies in the quality of the data held within the NCIS.
NCIS quality is both a local and central responsibility, with jurisdictions and the NCIS Unit taking steps and procedures to ensure that any deficiencies are identified and rectified within a timely manner and also to ensure that improvement processes are implemented and maintained. The main purpose of the NCIS data quality activities is to discover any inconsistencies and other anomalies in the data and recommend data cleansing activities to improve the quality of the data maintained in the NCIS. Quality reviews verify that the data conforms to the defined code sets and that interdependent data fields, such as case type and intent or country of birth and years in Australia, are coded correctly. The quality objectives are to: maintain systematic quality analysis and monitoring; provide Coder and Third party user training; review and update NCIS coding support documents such as the Data Dictionary and Coding Manual; provide help-desk assistance; review coding classifications and ensure the code sets reflect current international standards and concepts.
The data entered into the NCIS is collected from sources such as the police investigations, autopsy reports, toxicology reports and coronial findings. It is acknowledged that quality and consistency of these documents may vary between, and within each jurisdiction.
There are also inherent differences between the state and territory legislative provisions governing the reporting of a death to a coroner, which impact on the type, quality and quantity of the information collected and reported by each jurisdiction.
The majority of data fields collected in the NCIS are controlled by a dataset which is specific to each data field and limits the choices or options for the field (for example, Sex is limited to Male, Female, Unlikely to be Known). Drop-down menus are used to make data entry as easy and accurate as possible. Where applicable free text data fields are used, these fields allow coders to enter case specific information which cannot be explained using the standard codeset.
Automated validation rules and warnings are incorporated into both the LCMS and NCIS to ensure that mandatory data fields are completed prior to the closure of the case. These rules help to ensure that the minimum of information and coding is completed before the case is closed off.
A more thorough review of each case is conducted by the NCIS team upon closure of the case.

Accessibility

Direct access to NCIS data is only available to death investigators assisting the coroner (forensic scientist, pathologist, and assisting police) and third party users (defined as an individual or organisation with a role or interest in public health and safety or with a statutorily mandated statistical role). All third party applications are referred to the Victorian Department of Justice Research Ethics Committee for consideration. If the application seeks to access identifying information from WA, an application to the WA Coronial Ethics Committee will also be required. Death investigation users contact the NCIS, to arrange appropriate authorisation from the State or Chief Coroner in the relevant jurisdiction. Before the NCIS Applications Officer submits an application to the Department of Justice Ethics Committee it will be reviewed by the NCIS Research Committee (NRC). A maximum of 8 applications will be considered by the NRC at any one meeting. Applications will be considered in the order in which satisfactorily completed applications are received.
Applications for online access to the NCIS must be made through and approved by the Victorian Department of Justice Research Ethics Committee. There are two levels of access to completed cases: Level 1 - all data; and Level 2 - non-identifying data only. Compliance with the NCIS Privacy Protocols is a term of the Access Agreement.
At present, direct access is not available to individuals, the media or private organisations, however de-identified statistics can be produced for these agencies with an applicable fee.
The NCIS Unit can also provide reports on an ad hoc basis (charges apply).

Interpretability

The NCIS Data Dictionary is available to assist with the use and interpretation of analysis performed using the database.
Codes provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ICD-10) are available on the NCIS for all closed cases. The extensive nature of ICD enables classification of causes of death at various levels of detail. The underlying cause of death is coded, as are a maximum of 20 multiple causes. The NCIS also conducts geocoding based on the ASGC classification for external cause deaths from 2006 onwards (based on residential and incident address).

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