And here we are: part three of the Future of Forensics. Part one and part two looked at the super cool virtual autopsy and its use cases. For part three, we set out on an adventure. What technologies are forensic pathologists using today? And, what do those technologies mean for the future of forensic pathology?
Forensic Technology Today
We had the opportunity to talk with Dr. James Gill, President of National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME). “Common technologies that assist the forensic pathologist in medicolegal death investigation include analytical toxicology, radiological imaging, digital photography, fingerprint scanning, and molecular testing (not only for identification but for diseases as well),” Dr. Gill explained. Radiological imaging is at the core of the virtual autopsy, and it’s being used today. We were very excited when we had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Nicole Jackson, forensic pathologist and Assistant Medical Examiner for Cook County in Chicago. “We are one of the few offices in the nation, and possibly world, that uses CT scanners somewhat regularly on our decedents. They are most often used as an add-on to external examinations and allow us to “see” inside the decedents and enable us to document severe trauma and natural disease without making incisions on the skin. This is particularly beneficial when serving populations with religious objections to autopsy examinations. The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, where I trained for Fellowship, uses postmortem CT (and likely MRIs) more than anyone else in the country and is probably one of the biggest implementers in the world,” Dr. Jackson told us.
Forensic Technology Tomorrow
“Toxicology testing and molecular testing are constantly growing. Toxicology improvements include new techniques to increase the speed and efficiency of testing as well as expanding the number of drugs that can be detected. Molecular testing includes new technologies to speed up the process and to detect mutations that may be responsible for certain deaths that do not have gross or microscopic findings at autopsy. These would include abnormalities in heart cells that can lead to irregular rhythms of the heart (e.g., channelopathies),” said Dr. Gill. What does access to these technologies mean? “Better access to molecular testing and advanced radiologic imaging (CT scan or MRI) would be useful adjuncts to have in forensic pathology. Due to a critical forensic pathology workforce shortage, the advanced radiological technology may help with being able to certify certain deaths without having to do an autopsy.”
Next Gen Pathologist Perspective
We spoke with Dr. Bettie Yeboah, an incoming pathology resident at University of Virginia. We wanted to know the effect new technologies would have on early year pathologists’ interest in the field of forensic pathology. There is a critical shortage, as Dr. Gill stated. “For me, my interest in forensics was the fact that I could personally handle bodies and help solve cases for the community. While technological advances are great in any field, it wouldn’t have changed my interest in the field. Though, I think it would draw in more future doctors who aren’t as enthused about doing autopsies and make forensics a more popular option,” Dr. Yeboah told us. Dr. Yeboah’s interest in forensics is due, in part, to being able to personally handle decedents. Given the technological advances that result in the virtual autopsy, for example, removes a lot of the “hands on” work of forensic pathologists. Yes, this may save time, but the art that is forensic pathology cannot be fully duplicated with even the keenest of technologies.
What about even more advanced technology? Is there a place for machine learning and AI in forensic pathology? Perhaps a part four is in order! We’d love to talk to more forensic pathologists to keep this series going. Just email Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
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