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Inside the Lab Quality assurance and quality control, Technology and innovation

Gone but Not Forgotten

Credit: Supplied by Author

Devastating errors can happen when decedents are mismanaged. As we see more harrowing stories of morgue mix-ups, when can we expect the healthcare system to recognize that decedent care is just as important as living care? As a society, we expect healthcare organizations to care for our loved ones in the same manner before and after death, but all too often this is not the case. And we’re in dire need of a solution.

Most hospitals assign responsibility for decedent management to their laboratory, nursing, and/or security leaders who ensure services run smoothly and appropriately. This includes autopsies, organ and tissue donation, medical examiner releases, holding a patient until family matters are resolved, and any of the myriad of possible scenarios that can arise at the time of a patient's death. In addition, the process requires bodies to be identified appropriately, personal belongings to be kept secure, and all deceased patients’ whereabouts be properly tracked and recorded.

Hospital morgues and decedent affairs are rarely the recipient of capital infrastructure dollars, IT software enhancements, or workflow upgrades. Today’s healthcare leaders have often inadequately tried to resolve these important requirements by providing staff with antiquated, low budget tools, such as manual paper logs, archaic clip boards, and spreadsheets, to satisfy a process that needs as much attention as any living patient.

In some cases, organizations try to leverage a piece of their electronic health record (EHR) system. However, these accessory software options have clearly not been developed by decedent affairs experts. Most out-of-the-box EHR enhancements do not provide the detailed pathology or decedent care industry-specific details necessary to assure proper patient care. The EHR system alternatives are simply not designed to meet the demands of decedent management. Few offer all of the key communication options needed for efficient and accurate management of outside autopsy cases, funeral home details, medical examiner cases, organ bank information, and special case considerations. Simply put, most hospital leaders are not properly supporting the departments and personnel who handle decedent affairs on a day-to-day basis.

This essential health care area has been neglected by most healthcare technology advancements. However, it remains the responsibility of our hospitals and supporting services to ensure that the same heightened focus on patient safety, hand-off tracking, and respect for family continue well after the death of the patient. 

All that said, a brighter future is now within reach to solve this critical gap in healthcare. The solution is targeted IT software designed to work with a compatible streamlined workflow to set a higher standard in managing care after death. These new technologies offer admitting-type case creation upon the death of a patient to initiate a workflow management system equivalent to that offered to living patients. Person-to-person hand offs can be recorded using any institution's integrated employee sign-on access identification systems.

Through this EHR integration, the morgue management system communicates all patient details, including autopsy, organ donation, patient belongings, medical examiner status, and all special circumstances, to key personnel – assuring the decedent receives proper care. Comprehensive case management allows designated personnel to input or view important information for all decedents, such as autopsy consent, infectious case information, personal belonging details, and family/guardian-related issues. All case details are visible anytime, on any device (including a phone app) to create streamlined communication. From the time of death to the release to a funeral home or medical examiner, every detail is traceable and visible to key personnel. Robust necrology data reporting is also available and customizable.

Today’s technology is already capable of performing at this level to support a better care-after-death process, as well as reducing the looming hospital liability associated with the large number of manual systems currently used to manage deceased patients. 

In short, death care is important and hospitals must start paying more attention. 

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About the Author
Nick Nell

CEO and co-founder of MorgueBoard

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