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Forensics and the Critical Role of the ER Nurse

NCJ Number
On The Edge Volume: 7 Issue: 3 Dated: Fall 2001 Pages: 1,20,22
Lynda D. Benak
Date Published
4 pages
This article focuses on the role of emergency department (ED) personnel in dealing with forensic cases.
ED personnel have the greatest potential for evaluating the associated forensic elements. Practitioners must incorporate forensic related education in order to respond to the often-complex presentation of high-risk communities. ED managers now have the challenge of providing this necessary education while observing a limited budget so their staff members are prepared to meet State mandatory reporting requirements. Forensic cases are defined as those that have the potential to be reported to a legal agency where an investigation may be mandated or charges may be filed and/or issued in a court of law. There are 27 forensic categories, including injuries resulting from the use of weapons, interpersonal violence, sharp and blunt force trauma, police custody deaths, abuse and neglect of a child, elder or disabled, hate crimes, sudden and unexpected deaths, occupational and environmental hazards, sexual assault, and substance abuse. There are three problems that result when law enforcement personnel have contact with an ED regarding a forensic case. The first is failure of medical personnel to appreciate and anticipate police investigation needs. The second is failure to retrieve and appropriately package forensic evidence. And the third is a lack of cooperation that leads to an increased tension between law enforcement and ED personnel. EDs should have procedures outlined for patients with suspicious injuries. Incorporating education of photo-documentation for ED staff is useful for both staff and patient should the circumstances be discussed later during prosecution in a courtroom. ED staff must be educated to the various circumstances that birth forensic elements and be prepared to respond appropriately, such as referral for follow-up care and counseling. Comments made by victims in the intensity of an event and when under stress or excitement should be recorded verbatim as evidence. The development of a forensic specialist role to orchestrate this education will provide additional support and security to emergency departments. 9 references