Medical examiner shortage: Facts about death investigations

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2015 1:03 AM

BOSTON (AP) — Medical examiner offices nationwide are plagued by deficiencies in equipment, staff, education and training, leading to long delays and sometimes financial hardships for survivors who can't collect benefits. Some facts about death investigations in the United States:

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— There are about 3,000 death investigation jurisdictions in the United States. About one-third are medical examiner systems, and two-thirds are coroner systems. Every state has laws that define how death investigations are handled in its state, counties or municipalities.

— In general, medical examiner systems tend to be concentrated in urban, higher-density population areas, while coroner systems work in places with a large geographic area and lower population.

— Currently, only about 3 percent of medical examiner systems and 1 percent of coroner systems are accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners.

— In Massachusetts, where the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has been beset by problems, there is a backlog of about 1,922 incomplete autopsy reports from 2011 to 2014, although office stressed it has completed 97 percent of death certificates for that period.

— In Utah, the state medical examiner's office has six forensic pathologists who work on the equivalent of about 327 autopsies per year, giving each doctor a case volume considerably higher than the maximum of 250 per year recommended by the National Association of Medical Examiners.