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Recap: Forensic Trends in Healthcare Conference

April 19, 2016

By Paul Clements, PhD, associate clinical professor, Division of Graduate Nursing

 The inaugural Forensic Trends in Healthcare conference convened from April 15th to April 17th at the College of Nursing and Health Professions’ Center City campus. The conference, which was supported in part by an unrestricted educational grant from Drexel University Online, targeted providers and educators in the health care sciences, as well as professionals who have direct contact with victims and/or offenders across disciplines and areas of practice. The combined session offerings were geared to offer information and insight into the contemporary advances and challenges related to a wide range of interpersonal violence, crime and sudden violent death that may be encountered in a variety of health care settings. A broad representation of forensic clinicians attended, including participants from California, Montana, Ohio, upstate New York, the Philadelphia tri-state area, and additionally from Vancouver, British Columbia, and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Many Drexel University students, both former and current, were in attendance as well.

 Following a Friday evening networking reception, Linda Ledray, PhD, a pioneer in the field of sexual assault response and treatment (SART), provided a historical overview of the progress and current state of assessment, reporting and prosecution of sexually based crimes in both civilian and military settings. The main conference proceedings were officially opened by Susan Aldridge, PhD, Senior Vice President for Online Learning at Drexel University, discussing the rapidly evolving professions within the forensic sciences..Aldridge further noted Drexel University’s contribution to this expanding professional field by discussing the Forensic Trends in Healthcare Certificate Program Online, which includes a specific focus of translation of forensic science to enhance clinical practice, including computer-based simulations regarding work with victims and offenders of interpersonal violence and crime, as well as a virtual crime scene to examine methods of promoting patient safety within the home. 

Michael Baden, MD, one of the nation’s most recognized forensic pathologists, particularly from his HBO Series, Autopsy: Postmortem, launched the conference with his keynote presentation: A History of Forensic Science: From Cain and Abel, to JFK, O.J., Medgar Evers and Ferguson, discussing how public interest in high profile cases has often permitted advances in the various forensic sciences. Each of the cases presented illustrated how knowledge has been gained from thorough investigations. The conference continued with issues related to a variety of clinically relevant forensic issues including the significant rise in counterfeit drugs, sexual assault on college campuses, profiling offender behavior and subsequent impact for victims, the significant importance of medico-legal documentation and the impact on court proceedings related to intimate partner violence, workplace violence in the healthcare sector, ethical treatment of male inmate in the correctional setting and provision of care to deployed veterans upon return.

Understanding the tenets of forensic science in the health care arena promotes accuracy and fairness in today's criminal justice system, enhances the safety for patients who may be victims of violence, ensures adequate health care for offenders, potentially improves investigation of both civil and criminal cases, initiates the healing following interpersonal trauma, and can extend and support the rehabilitative process for offenders. Given the current barometer of health care, these are inherently important factors for front-line clinicians, managers, administrators and health care educators to possess and promote within their specific specialty and could directly contribute toward comprehensive, ethical and equitable care as well as enhancing safe and effective environments.  The conference operated within a multifaceted perspective – including that of the offender, crime victim, families, and the health care community-at-large. Emphasis was given toward expanding an understanding of the etiologic and motivational issues and response patterns to perpetration, victimization, bio-psycho-social dynamics and related analysis, and implications for enhancing safe and effective practice and policy initiatives/modifications.

Clearly, there is an increasing interface between health care and the law; specifically, offenders and victims of interpersonal violence and crime often, simultaneously, have health-related issues that require clinical treatment. One of the overarching themes throughout the conference was the importance of providing “person first” care within all health care settings; specifically, treating the patient first, while additionally assessing any forensic issues, can simultaneously result in adequate, ethical and effective health care and promotion of justice.

Photo:  Susan Aldridge, PhD, Senior Vice President for Online Learning at Drexel University and Paul Thomas Clements, PhD, coordinator, Forensic Trends in Healthcare Certificate Online Program, prepare to officially open the conference.