Coroners using CT scanners for less invasive exams

Published: May. 17, 2022 at 8:52 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - New technology now being used by some medical examiner and coroner’s offices could give families answers more quickly after a loved one dies.

You may be familiar with CT scans at your local hospital for everything from back pain to head injuries.

But now, they’re also being used in a very different way.

Some medical examiners and coroners are now using CT scans to help identify causes of death.

It’s like a “virtual autopsy” using 3D imaging, without leaving a mark behind.

We recently spoke with the Stark County Coroner’s Office.

They’re one of many offices in Ohio and across the country facing a forensic pathologist shortage.

We learned they’re sending their autopsies to Cuyahoga County because they can’t do them themselves.

19 Investigates found they’re looking into using CT scans to help lighten that load.

They built a special room into their newly designed facility for a machine.

“That might be something that will help as a middle piece. I mean, ultimately I still think we will need forensic pathologists, but we need to find something in the interim. Well, we have this shortage. So I’m looking at that as a possible tool to help the gap and take it from there,” said Dr. Ron Rusnak.

He said CT scans are more commonly used for this in other countries, but it’s catching on here too.

19 Investigates found here in Ohio, Franklin, Hamilton, and Montgomery counties have the machines.

Dr. Rusnak said overdoses should have autopsies, but most coroners don’t have the manpower for that right now.

And a CT scan could help with this.

“So a CT scan would be a nice tool in between where we’d be able to get an idea that they have a head bleed, that they have an aneurysm. Did they have some abdominal injury that isn’t apparent on the gross examination? So not only you know that they have drugs in their system, but they still could have been another medical event that possibly could have caused their death or contributed to their death,” Dr. Rusnak said.

The Stark County Coroner’s Office would still use the CT scan even when they hire a forensic pathologist.

But they think this tool could eliminate their need to do some autopsies.

And help when families object to autopsies due to their religious beliefs.

The goal would be to have another tool to provide families with answers.

Dr. Rusnak is looking at several grants to fund a CT scanner.

They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger told 19 Investigates there is a downside to the scanners, he finds they can be time-consuming and expensive to use.

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