Forensic Death Investigation Symposium: Communication Break Down

P. Michael Murphy, coroner for the Clark County (Nevada) Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner, explained that communication is crucial in forensic death investigation. Communication — or lack thereof — is the single greatest hurdle to performing our daily work, Murphy said. To improve death investigation, we must enhance the way we communicate, he added.

The communication breakout group made the following recommendations:

  • Address the communication breakdown between all death investigation professionals, families and stakeholders through targeted education and training. Recipients should include: medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement, EMS personnel, hospitals, the media, elected officials and students. The group agreed that elected officials must understand the value of forensic death investigation.
  • Organize a scientific working group to examine communication concerns.
  • Offer debt forgiveness for death investigators, medical examiners and coroners.
  • Enhance communication when dealing with decedents' families.
  • Develop educational programs addressing the entire communication process — technical writing, public speaking and conducting research.
  • Foster collaborative relationships with schools; get students excited about forensic death investigation.
  • Develop a central mechanism to allow for communication between the public and the government during a mass fatality incident.
  • Explore the possibility of using current programs to address disaster preparedness.
  • Encourage the use of technology to improve communication in death investigation. Group members noted that in general, the field currently does not using teleconferencing and social communication platforms.

The group conversation extended beyond the breakout focus on communication and onto a reoccurring theme of the meeting — standards creation. One point of contention among group members was whether national standards of practice for medicolegal death investigation are needed to bring all agencies up to a minimum standard of quality. Some felt that these standards already exist; others felt that the current standards are not strong enough to force sub-par jurisdictions to improve. Some group members were concerned that strict standards would restrict the case-by-case flexibility needed during an investigation. Best practices or guidelines might be more accepted or feasible, they said.

Date Created: June 15, 2011