The reliability and accuracy of data generated by medical examiners is equivalent to that of any other medical provider. Since medical examiners are licensed physicians, they are ethically and legally obligated to maintain accurate records, the same as any other physician.
In general, the reliability of ancillary data received by the medical examiner, such as clinical laboratory data, copies of the deceased's previous medical charts and radiographs would be expected to be high. Moreover, a medical examiner's chart of the deceased is inherently more detailed regarding the physical examination than that created by physicians regarding their living patients, due to the former's ability to directly view and dissect organs and prepare extensive pathology specimens for analysis where needed.
Offices of Medical Examiner or Coroner are public agencies charged with investigating unexpected or suspicious deaths and those where the victim was not attended by a physician. These departments have a public health reporting obligation similar to other healthcare providers. They use information systems that are similar in many respects to point-of-care systems used by physicians. Thus, we can expect reliability and data accuracy to be high. Virtually all large jurisdictions use these systems, so availability should also be high and they constitute a potentially useful source of information for biosurveillance. Post-mortem medical examinations, however, are rare and inherently late in the timeline of disease. Mass casualty incidents can cause significant delays in data entry. The utility of medical examiner data in the context of an outbreak, whether naturally occurring or a product of bioterrorism, also depends on the degree to which the information systems are integrated and linked to biosurveillance systems, and the nature of the outbreak.
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Metro news briefs: New York. August 17. Office of Chief Medical Examiner, State of North Carolina. (2005). Program Description: Forensic Pathology Fellowship. http://www.pathology. unc. edu/fellowsp/forensic. htm. Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. (2005). Program Description: Master of Science in Forensic Medicine. http://www.pcom.edu/Academic_Programs/Degree_Programs/ Degree_Programs_Physician_Assi/PA_Advanced_Masters_ Brochure/pa_advanced_masters_brochure.html. Riverside County, California, Sheriff Department. (2005). California Penal Code Section 830.35(c). http://www.riversidesheriff.org/ coroner/index.html. Young, T. (2005). Medical Examiner, Jackson County, Missouri Office of Medical Exminer. Personal Communication, April 15.
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