Physician Responsibility in Reporting Deaths | Print |

If a physician is called to, or is present at the scene of death and is quite satisfied that the death is outside the jurisdiction of the Medical Examiner, the Medical Examiner need not be called and the body can be released to the funeral home. If, in the opinion of the attending physician, criteria have been met which require the reporting of the death to the Medical Examiner, the physician should ensure that the death is promptly reported by telephone to the Medical Examiner's Office (404-730-4400), any time of day or night. The office number is monitored 24 hours a day. Whenever a question exists about whether to report a death, it should be reported. Qualified Medical Examiner investigative personnel will make an assessment quickly and expeditiously and provide appropriate guidance. A physician should approach the next-of-kin about performance of an autopsy at the hospital only after it has been determined that the death is not a medical examiner’s case, or, if the medical examiner has accepted jurisdiction on the case but will not need the body for postmortem examination.

The attending physician, upon learning that the Medical Examiner's Office has accepted the jurisdiction of the death, may report this to the family so they are aware of the fact that the body will be removed by the Office of the Medical Examiner and that there is a probability this office will conduct a postmortem examination. In those instances in which this office accepts jurisdiction, the body will be transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner under the direction of the Medical Examiner’s Investigator.

In Medical Examiner cases, and especially in possible homicide cases, no postmortem examination, removal of clothing or effects, or handling the body in any manner by persons not associated with the Medical Examiner should be performed except by specific authorization of the Medical Examiner's Office and only to the extent needed to properly prepare the body for transport. All medical devices such as airways and intravascular lines should be left in place.

When patients die in the emergency room and especially if death is apparently due to injury of any type, all efforts should be made to keep track of the clothing, personal effects, and other items with the body so they can be made available to the medical examiner. If clothing must be removed by cutting in the emergency room, it is important to avoid cutting through any pre-existing defects in the clothing.

If a patient has been injured and is in critical condition, it is very important to accurately document and describe all injuries in the medical record. If possible, photographs should be taken as well. Such procedures become very important if the patient survives for a long period of time and then dies, in which case the original injuries may be obscure, difficult to evaluate, or healed. In homicide cases and other cases in which some legal proceeding may eventually occur, such information and documentation can be invaluable in management of the case.

For additional information, see "Guidelines for Hospital Staff" below.

If any attending physician wishes to attend the autopsy, this request should be made to the Medical Examiner. Every effort will be made to accommodate the request.