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ME's Office Eliminating Backlog With More Doctors, New Technology

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The Chief Medical Examiner credits the progress to a little extra funding going a long way. The Chief Medical Examiner credits the progress to a little extra funding going a long way.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

For years, it's been one bit of a bad news after another for the State Medical Examiner's office, including a major backlog of cases. The state agency had a backlog of more than 1,200 autopsies last year that has now been virtually eliminated.

The Chief Medical Examiner credits the progress to a little extra funding going a long way.

"It shouldn't take that long as it did back then to sign out a case,” said Chief Eric Pfeifer.

Pfeifer arrived at the facility four years ago and says he quickly discovered the deteriorating state of the agency.

"The turnaround time in this agency was about nine months which is unacceptable,” he said.

Not for lack of hard work though, Pfeifer says there were not enough doctors to carry the caseload in 2011. So, Pfeifer immediately began petitioning to the state for additional funding.

"Thankfully, the Governor and legislature gave us the funding we needed to hire more physicians and some of this critical equipment and it's made a huge difference," Pfeifer said about the current state of the agency.

The agency has hired six doctors, bringing the total to 12 doctors statewide. He has also purchased some state of the art equipment. The Lodox X-ray Machine has already reduced the time spent on each investigation.

"It does a full body high resolution X- ray in 13 seconds," Pfeifer said the procedure used to take 45 minutes. “Now, we are not waiting for that anymore and we can spend more time actually reviewing our cases and doing the paperwork and that has been a really big game changer for us."

Pfeifer also credits the added efficiency to advancements in office equipment, such as microscopes tied to digital monitors for reviewing cases. He says the average turnaround time is less than 90 days, which is the national benchmark for completing cases.

But the agency is still working to get its accreditation back. The certification was pulled in 2009 due to the condition of the buildings in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and the agency being understaffed.

Pfeifer says a new building would not only allow for more space to hire additional physicians but he also believes the agency could further reduce turn-around times to 30 days.

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