In addition to current technologies, which are often unavailable and underutilized, new technologies are on the horizon to assist death investigators, medical examiners, and forensic pathologists.
Computerization of case records and the development of case information databases should be standard in any death investigation office, so that death data may be tracked for trends, response to public health and public safety interventions can be streamlined and accelerated, and continuing quality assurance measures can be implemented. There is no standard method of sample and data collection for ME/C systems. Multiple systems are commercially available that can be structured to meet the particular needs of any death investigation system. The initial cost of such systems is significant, and they require continuing maintenance, which rules out their utilization by small and/or underfunded offices. Even if such computer systems were present in each office, there is no standardization that would allow them to talk to one another, a necessity in a multijurisdictional event such as the Hurricane Katrina disaster, for which databases across states were critical to the identification of the dead and the tracking of survivors.
Laboratory information systems are available for the management of medical evidence, laboratory specimens, laboratory data, forensic samples, and personal effects. Effective database management allows information to be gathered and utilized by staff and analyzed for trends and quality issues. Effective databases are essential for managing any multiple fatality event. Rapid electronic transmission of reports is feasible if encryption software is available. At this time, ME/C information systems are less interoperable than current Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (see Chapter 10). Although the standard autopsy report generally covers the internal examination by organ systems, reporting formats are not standardized among jurisdictions. And, although the NAME Forensic Autopsy Performance Standards provide a model for reporting autopsy findings,41 it is not widely used.
Imaging equipment is critical to documenting findings sufficient for courts, for review by outside experts, and for reevaluation as medical knowledge advances. Fluoroscopy is helpful for locating missiles. Computed tomography scanning and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging may often present a better visual picture of some injuries and would likely reduce the number of autopsies carried out to rule out occult injury and to document in greater detail the extent of injury in accidents. The “Virtual
G. Peterson and S. Clark. 2006. Forensic Autopsy Performance Standards. Available at www.thename.org.