Obtaining a Medical History

Speaking to medical professionals may not always be easy for the investigator. Most physicians and nurses who report a case to the Medical Examiner's Office are very helpful. Unfortunately, some are not. Some pick up on the investigator's lack of medical training and quickly lose patience with them. For some reason, if you are not in the "medical club," you are considered an outsider.

Investigations must be given the necessary information for the death report. Persistence will pay off in gaining insight into the past medical history. If the physician doesn't remember the patient, a request must be made for someone to review the chart (usually done by a nurse or secretary in the office). If the death occurred in a medical facility, the investigator may need to personally review the medical chart or obtain a copy for the pathologist.

Physicians may not fully understand that the pathology or diseases which cause sudden death as are seen in the field of forensic pathology and death investigation. They generally have received a few hours of lectures or training in medical school concerning sudden death. Therefore, it may be best to gather all the information and to be wary of the physician's opinion about the cause of death. Of course, the physician may know if the decedent was near death because of a terminal disease.

There is no way a lay investigator is expected, or can be expected, to know all the medical disorders dealing with sudden death, however, most of the diseases causing sudden death and medical terminology should be understood.

It is beyond the scope of this handbook to teach all of the causes of natural and traumatic death. In addition to reading textbooks, the information can be obtained from pathologists. Most pathologists will explain the causes and mechanisms of sudden death while they are performing autopsies. It behooves the investigator to attend autopsies and avail themselves to this information.

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