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What Influences Cause of Death Reporting? How to maintain objectivity

Cause of Death Reporting

Cause of death reporting is not a new subject, in the news or to you, our readers. For QuantumMark, it is a major player in the work we do for many clients and has become something we think of daily. From how it effects health crises in our country (refer to our previous blog for more info) to the problems the industry is facing (hint: overload of cases is a top one), it’s becoming undeniable that COD reports have an impact on all of our lives. Sadly, the majority of people know very little about what goes into creating a COD report, and importantly, what influences the accuracy of those reports. To help bridge the knowledge gap, we’ve compiled three lesser known facts that can affect the veracity of COD reports.

1. Unintended Bias by all parties involved

Brian Ehret recently gave a great presentation at the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners (IACME) 2018 conference in Las Vegas documenting the cognitive bias that can easily happen with the information that determines a COD report. One example is when a Death Investigator arrives on a scene to do their work, they are often told by someone that it is a suicide, homicide, etc. case. Sometimes that information is useful but other times it can create a bias when documenting what they see, and actually determining the official Cause of Death.

2. Lack of family knowledge/fear of being judged

Family and friends are often protective of their loved ones and can omit important information for fear of being judged or betraying the deceased. While investigators can usually find the needed information, particularly if an individual used drug, the time it takes to conduct additional tests, adds more stress and may produce an inaccurate final report. Being honest about drug use and family history can eliminate those costly delays.

At times, family and friends simply have no idea that a loved one was involved in drug activities. This is becoming more and more common with the types of drugs available and the ease of delivery. Lynn Riemer presented at the IACME 2018 conference, that many drugs are now being sent directly to home mailboxes, making it easy for kids to hide their drug use. Whether known or unknown, missing information from family and friends plays a role in the timeliness and accuracy of COD reporting.

3. The “crime scene” itself

While this may seem obvious, many of us think of a crime scene as only being relevant for “violent” crimes. The reality is, there are critical influencers for almost all deaths that tell the story of an individual and provide clues for determining cause and manner of death. From looking at everyday objects like pizza boxes and newspapers, to paraphernalia around the deceased, a death scene provides a valuable backstory for what really happened to an individual. And that’s what’s needed for accuracy of the final report.

Determining what goes into a COD report is not simple or easy. Having to wade through all the outside influencers impacting accurate COD reporting can be daunting for those who report deaths. Objectivity can be hard to maintain. Honest and unbiased reporting is the goal and it takes all of us working together to make that happen.

If you’re interested in learning more, and discussing other issues, connect with us on LinkedIn and Facebook, or email Kim West.


IACME 2018 Conference Presentation By Barbara Butcher, RPA, MPH, Principal, Barbara F. Butcher, Ltd., NYC, NY
IACME 2018 Conference Presentation By Brian Ehret, F-ABMDI, Senior Forensic Investigator, Center for Forensic Sciences, Syracuse NY
IACME 2018 Conference Presentation By Lynn Reimer, President, ACT on Drugs, Inc., Thornton, CO

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