Context: Traditionally, the emphasis of work done by medical examiners, coroners, and the death investigation community has been viewed as serving the criminal justice system. During the last several decades, however, an important role for these 3 groups has emerged within public health.
Objective: To provide important background information on death investigation systems, the evolution and framework of public health entities that rely on information gathered by medical examiners and coroners, and the role of medical examiners and coroners in epidemiologic research, surveillance, and existing public health programs and activities.
Data sources: Previous articles on epidemiologic aspects of forensic pathology and the role of medical examiners and coroners in epidemiologic research and surveillance; a review of the Web sites of public health and safety agencies, organizations, and programs that rely on medical examiner and coroner data collected during medicolegal investigations; and a review of recent public health reports and other publications of relevance to medical examiner and coroner activities.
Conclusions: The role of medical examiners and coroners has evolved from a criminal justice service focus to a broader involvement that now significantly benefits the public safety, medical, and public health communities. It is foreseeable that the public health role of medical examiners and coroners may continue to grow and that, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, public health impact will surpass criminal justice as the major focus of medicolegal death investigation in the United States.