Available public health research data sets

The DPH maintains numerous public health databases that contain medical or personal information that is considered confidential under Massachusetts laws and regulations. These data are available to qualified public health researchers under certain circumstances described under Authorization for Public Health Research.

Table of Contents

Overview and availability

Maintaining the privacy of the individuals whose personal information is contained in these databases is essential to MDPH's mission to promote public health. MDPH conducts a detailed review of every application for access to confidential data and makes a determination whether to approve access on a case-by-case basis. Approved researchers are held to the highest ethical and legal standards and must agree to stipulations regarding use of the data. Approved researchers must provide adequate justification for every variable requested and are granted (temporary) access to only the minimum necessary data elements to complete a study.

The databases in this guide contain confidential MDPH records. By law, the Department may make them available to qualified researchers if approved by the Commissioner of Public Health in accordance with Massachusetts General Law, chapter 111, §24A.

Data Set Availability

Data Sets described herein have provided the minimum date of data availability. Latest date of a data set availability varies.

Vital Records

MDPH holds data relating to nearly 250,000 annual vital events (e.g., births, fetal deaths) that occur in Massachusetts in accordance with Massachusetts General Laws and regulations. Some records, such as birth records that have been amended or records of children who are adopted, are further restricted by Massachusetts General Laws and are not available. Individual records of birth and death that occurred out of state to Massachusetts residents are also not available for research purposes. Variables available change over time in conjunction with certificate format changes.


The current file format was implemented in 1996 and includes demographic information about the parents, infant characteristics, pregnancy and prenatal care information, and medical information about the mother and infant. The variable list is included in the application appendix for births.

  • Data available Beginning: 1969

Linked birth/infant deaths

The linked birth/infant death file is a data set composed of linked birth and death certificates for infants born in Massachusetts who died before reaching one year of age. This is a birth file cohort, with a given year's birth records linked with deaths for that year and the following year. The format includes data elements from birth and death certificates and the variable list is included in the application appendix for births.

  • Data available beginning: 1987

Fetal deaths

The fetal death file includes information on reported fetal deaths of 20 or more weeks gestation or those where the fetus weighed at least 350 grams. The current file format was implemented in 1998 and includes demographic information about the parents and medical information about the mother and fetus.

  • Data available beginning: 1970

Additional Resources   for Vital Records

Massachusetts Cancer Registry

M.G.L. c. 111, §111B and 105 CMR 301.000 require reporting to MDPH information related to newly diagnosed cases of malignant disease and benign brain-related tumors that occur to Massachusetts residents. The Massachusetts Cancer Registry currently collects data from acute care hospitals, selected physicians, and a limited number of pathology laboratories and freestanding treatment centers. Carcinoma in situ has been collected since January 1, 1992; benign brain tumors since January 1, 2004. The file includes demographic and medical information; the variable list is included in the cancer incidence application appendix.

  • Data available beginning: 1982

Additional Resources   for Massachusetts Cancer Registry

Birth Defects

M.G.L. c. 111, §67E requires reporting to the Department's Birth Defects Monitoring Program any required information related to birth defects that occur to Massachusetts residents.

The file includes information from births, infant deaths, fetal deaths, and birth defects records reported to the Department. The variable list is included in the birth defects application appendix.

  • Data available beginning: 2000

Additional Resources   for Birth Defects

Substance Addiction Treatment

The Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) manages the Substance Abuse Management Information System (SAMIS), which includes admission, discharge and invoice information on a variety of substance addiction treatment services delivered in over 150 publicly funded treatment agencies, with over 400 separate programs.

  • Data available beginning: 1992

Additional Resources   for Substance Addiction Treatment

Childhood Lead Poisoning Cases

MDPH holds data on cases of childhood lead poisoning. See the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program website for more information.

Additional Resources   for Childhood Lead Poisoning Cases

Other Confidential MDPH Datasets

MDPH maintains other confidential datasets that may be available for research purposes. Contact the particular MDPH program that maintains the data to determine whether data are available, or contact MDPH IRB for more information at DPH.IRB@state.ma.us.

Please note: Under current Massachusetts law, death records are not confidential. You may request access to closed death files including deaths that occurred in Massachusetts by contacting the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics at (617) 740-2670 or 740-2671.

  • Data available beginning: 1969

Additional Resources   for Other Confidential MDPH Datasets

Help Us Improve Mass.gov  with your feedback

Please do not include personal or contact information.