Family Health Services
While the coronial death investigation process is undertaken with the primary purpose of investigating the cause and circumstances of an individual’s death, it may also uncover previously unknown medical conditions that may have a genetic basis and therefore significance for the health and welfare of surviving family members.
Helping families come to terms with these issues, and ensuring that they have an opportunity to consult clinical medical specialists, contributes directly to the health of the community in Victoria. In order to be able to do this the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) operates a special Family Health Information Service (FHIS) lead by nursing staff with genetic counselling and pathology support.
What Do Families Need to Know?
Below is some important information for families who are referred to the VIFM Family Health Information Service.
Identifying an Undiagnosed Disease
The pathology investigation into a death often uncovers a range of previously undiagnosed and unrecognised disease processes which may or may not have contributed to the death, but may indicate a genetic susceptibility to a particular disease that may be shared by other family members.
When a previously unknown medical condition is identified by a pathologist during the medical examination the patient is referred internally to a specialist nurse from our Family Health Information Service. Our nurses then contact families to explain the findings to them and to collect background information including the medical history of both the deceased individual, and their family. This enables us to identify families where it may be important to offer genetic testing and to ensure appropriate samples for DNA analysis are obtained and stored.
Where appropriate we will facilitate the referral of families to an external genetic health service or other medical specialists and act as a clinical liaison to:
review, triage and action the referrals
document and verify family histories,
organise pre-assessment clinical screening
manage clinic bookings to ensure optimal use of the clinician and patient time.
Through this service we enable families to plan a health care strategy to prevent further unnecessary or premature illness or death. At all times families are able to choose the best road and timing of such activities for themselves.
During the examination of internal organs of the body, small pieces of the body tissues are collected in order to allow the tissues to be examined for microscopic disease processes that may not be able to be detected during the autopsy dissection.
On occasions arrangements are made to retain an organ for more detailed specialist pathological examination. If this needs to be done to properly investigate the death, the family is consulted and we are able to organise appropriate funeral arrangements to be made for the retained organ at a later date.
Resources for health related and family support information
Often families have questions about common diseases. Our nursing and medical staff are happy to provide information that may help answer these questions and there is also a range of responsible internet sites that may be able to assist and some of these are listed here. Of course these online resources should not be used in such a way that replaces the personalised care provided by medical practitioners and other qualified health professionals.