Developing a Postmortem CT Service: Practical Considerations for Death Investigation Agencies

Developing a Postmortem CT Service: Practical Considerations for Death Investigation Agencies


May 2022


This guide will help medicolegal death investigation agencies that are considering adopting postmortem computed tomography (PMCT) make informed decisions. First, the basic questions are outlined that must be considered before approaching architects or gathering information about specific CT scanners. Next, the evolution of PMCT use at the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator is described as just one example of how a PMCT service can function in a high-volume agency. The remainder of the guide covers, topic-by-topic, important considerations for planning, establishing, and maintaining a PMCT service in a medical examiner’s or coroner’s office.

In presenting this information, specific vendors are not named or endorsed, CT scanner models, or commercial software products—in part, because new products are continually available, and specific recommendations would quickly become outdated. Furthermore, because of the ubiquitous use of CT in clinical medicine, there are many reputable vendors with a range of products and services from which to choose. Given the variety of death investigation agencies (e.g., large, small, medical examiner, coroner) and the variation in the imaging technologies already available at each agency (portable X-ray, whole body X-ray), there is neither a single CT scanner nor image viewing software package that will be the best fit for every agency.

Similarly, this guide is not intended to prescribe a particular philosophy or style of PMCT usage in medicolegal death investigation, nor are research findings demonstrating the utility of PMCT in the investigation of specific case types included, a topic addressed in many excellent articles in the academic literature. Rather, for agencies that are already considering adding PMCT to their death investigation toolbox, this guide aims to provide practical guidance from a technical and operational perspective. Basic PMCT concepts and terminology, functions and features, general operational questions to consider, and potential issues are outlined to help agencies confidently gather sufficient information and spur the fruitful discussions required to make informed decisions about PMCT. This guide is provided as a digestible and practical (but by no means exhaustive) overview of developing and operating a PMCT service, and it can be a useful starting point and reference for other death investigation agencies in the years to come.

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence report was provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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