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Author Topic: Do Police Check with Personal Doctors?  (Read 3046 times)

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Criminal_Writer

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Do Police Check with Personal Doctors?
« on: August 29, 2010, 11:43:41 AM »

I'm working on a plot where a local doctor kills his patients at their houses. I don't want to talk about my plot too much, but one of the key clues is that each of the victim had this doctor at some point in their lives. Do police officers check on who victims had as personal doctors in the course of their investigation? Thanks in advance for any help.
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Kat

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Re: Do Police Check with Personal Doctors?
« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2010, 04:56:02 PM »

I don't know if this will help (true story) but in a small town where I used to live, a relative passed away at her home and another relative found the body after work. When the first responders arrived, one of them asked to see the prescription medicine bottles if any and who the personal physician was. Since the death looked like natural causes, even though it was an unattended death, a fireman/paramedic called the personal physician who explained what the deceased's personal health problems were. Since the doctor agreed that it was probably a massive heart attack (used formal words on the death certificate) he agreed to sign the death certificate and the deceased was picked up by the funeral home. Some of us were surprised that no autopsy was ordered for an unattended death but the paramedics, policeman, and the fire dept, were all at the  house, they discussed things in another room while a police officer stayed with the relative who found the body.  When they agreed that was the best way to go, they called the physician. The family concurred. Keep in mind this was a small town and the deceased was in her 80's.
If your character makes the deaths look "natural" he could have a field day until someone figures out he's the one always being called.
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Dave Freas

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Re: Do Police Check with Personal Doctors?
« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2010, 06:19:38 PM »

I would think with a series of murders, the police would look for anything that connected the victims--dry cleaner, grocery store, gas station, church, pharmacy, you name it.  In your case, they would find the doctor was one factor common to all.

Hope this helps.

Dave
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Old Bill

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Re: Do Police Check with Personal Doctors?
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2010, 06:55:53 PM »

Kat & CW:

Actually not all that surprising about no autopsy for unattended death as long as there is history of illness and that everyone agrees with the circumstances at the scene.  My father at 88 died in his sleep and the funeral home took him out of his house.  He had a history of minor TIAs but otherwise fairly good health.

During a death investigation the medics and police will/should review the prescriptions and would/should consult the attending physician.

Now, also bear in mind, that (at least for NY) the person-in-charge of a death scene is the Medical Examiner.  He/she, or their investigators, have control over the death scene.  Obviously, the normal ME does not have the resources to conduct the entire investigation, so it is usually relinquished to the local PD.  But during the initial investigation all the prescrips, med history, etc. will be reviewed by their office.  Therefore, if multiple deaths were to occur in the same jurisdiction, the fact that all the deaths were under one doctor would probably raise a red flag.

Good luck with your story, CW.

Old Bill
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Kat

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Re: Do Police Check with Personal Doctors?
« Reply #4 on: August 30, 2010, 12:19:29 AM »

Kat & CW:

Actually not all that surprising about no autopsy for unattended death as long as there is history of illness and that everyone agrees with the circumstances at the scene.  My father at 88 died in his sleep and the funeral home took him out of his house.  He had a history of minor TIAs but otherwise fairly good health.

During a death investigation the medics and police will/should review the prescriptions and would/should consult the attending physician.

Now, also bear in mind, that (at least for NY) the person-in-charge of a death scene is the Medical Examiner.  He/she, or their investigators, have control over the death scene.  Obviously, the normal ME does not have the resources to conduct the entire investigation, so it is usually relinquished to the local PD.  But during the initial investigation all the prescrips, med history, etc. will be reviewed by their office.  Therefore, if multiple deaths were to occur in the same jurisdiction, the fact that all the deaths were under one doctor would probably raise a red flag.

Good luck with your story, CW.

Old Bill
Thanks, Bill, I always wondered about that. Kat
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Lance Charnes

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Re: Do Police Check with Personal Doctors?
« Reply #5 on: August 30, 2010, 09:47:38 PM »

I'll assume your story is set in a small town. A doctor in an urban area could have hundreds of patients (or at least, people who have designated him/her as their primary care physician for insurance purposes), and so it would take a lot of deaths to make this connection meaningful.

Then again, if it's a small town, there may only be one or two doctors in the place, so by definition anywhere from half to all of the town would have the same doctor.

You may also find a huge suspension-of-disbelief hurdle with a doctor who makes house calls. You didn't mention whether this is a period piece.
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Old Bill

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Re: Do Police Check with Personal Doctors?
« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2010, 01:25:31 PM »

Criminal Writer,

Lance brought up some good points, especially about house calls...so I had to reread your first post.  "He kills them at their houses" could mean that he doesn't make house calls but just goes there to kill them.  I guess CW will have to work that out.

Also, CW said, "each of the victims had this doctor at some point in their lives."  That could really complicate the investigation if the Dr wasn't the current primary/attending physician.  Off the top of my head I can't think of any way to connect past Drs to a patient unless old prescription bottles/receipts/relative's memory/or other clues were found in the houses connecting the suspect Dr to the patients.

BTW, Criminal Writer, are you looking over my shoulder.  My "Angel With A Gun" WIP has an unscrupulous insurance agent writing small policies on very elderly people at death's door...only he gives them a helpful push through the door.  :o  But not to fear, Angel is on his case like butter on toast.  ::)

Old Bill
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linda

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Re: Do Police Check with Personal Doctors?
« Reply #7 on: September 01, 2010, 03:39:40 PM »

It changes from department to department, but I can briefly tell you how the 'on scene' officer handles it here in Texas.  The officer assigned the call has the responsibility for calling the Medical Examiner.

You'll do a short investigation prior to calling the ME.  This includes talking to relatives/neighbors, checking medical history, prescriptions (including the name and phone number of the doctor), whether the deceased was a terminal patient and was under hospice care, the appearance of the scene, and so on.  (Old Bill's right, old prescription bottles at the residence would be a way to connect a past physician to the victim.)

Checking the scene is important; a death such as hanging could be a murder, a suicide, or autoerotic asphyxiation.  The scene gives you the information you need to determine if there was 'foul play' involved and the information the ME needs to make a decision.  

The ME will usually call the victim's doctor and checks on his medical history, and whether he had a serious medical problem.

So, there's a couple of ways your killer could be tripped up.  If the medical examiner is getting several deaths and they all have this doctor as their personal physician, their office might look into it or conduct autopsies to verify the cause of death.

In addition, the crime scene may not look "right," with items out of place or the victim isn't positioned as you would expect for that cause of death, or there's blood pooling where it shouldn't be, or the rigor isn't right for this type or time of death, etc.  Experienced officers will know what's 'normal' at a natural death.  They'll also notice when the scene isn't 'adding up' and they'll let the ME know that there's some questions.

Both will draw attention to the killings.  When they start looking for a link, your killer doctor will stand out as the common denominator.  

I hope this helped.
« Last Edit: September 01, 2010, 03:51:19 PM by linda »
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