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Utilizing Medical Illustrations as Demonstrative Aids for Trial

Written by Lindsay Coulter

What is medical illustration? Medical illustration is a multifaceted profession from the anatomical to cellular level, visualizing and communicating complex medical concepts.

A medical illustrator is a professional artist with advanced education in both life sciences and visual communication. They regularly collaborate with scientists, physicians, nurses and other specialists, pharmaceutical companies, publishing companies, or small studios specializing in several of these areas, with the aim of transforming complex medical information into visual images.

Medical illustrators are visual problem solvers. Before beginning work, they research by reading scientific papers, reviewing operative and radiology reports, meeting with experts (e.g., scientists, physicians), and observing surgeries—all of which are an integral part of the creative process.

As with various fields of medicine, it is not uncommon for medical illustrators to specialize in both a field of study as well as media, including animation, illustration, or interactive application development.

Medical Illustrations in Court

Speaking of specialization, we are going to review how to utilize medical illustrations in court. Typically, medical illustrations are used to describe injuries, surgeries, anatomy, or anatomical landmarks.

Interpretation of radiology, language, and strategy are important for medicolegal cases. Attorneys appreciate case review and an outline of how artwork will enhance their cases, as well as visualize injuries. Plaintiff and defense attorneys are wildly different in strategy and rely on expert professionals to help them present their case.

Medical illustrations may also be used to support expert testimony in criminal and civil cases. Illustrations of gunshot wounds and trajectories are helpful to show the trajectory path and what organs the bullet traversed; explain suffering and cause of death; or whether the bullet leaves shrapnel and how that affects the body. Below are some sample illustrations of gunshot wounds and bullet trajectories.

Diagrams for Documentation

In addition to artistic and specialized illustrations, anatomic diagrams can support accurate documentation of findings observed during a medical forensic examination. The Academy of Forensic Nursing recognized the need to have standardized diagrams that can be used to document normal anatomy, as well as injury findings in a variety of patients with forensic healthcare needs.

You can purchase and download these diagrams from the AFN Learn website.

Subtle as well as significant injury is often observed in patients seen after intimate partner violence, sexual assault, strangulation, elder abuse, and child maltreatment. The opportunity to utilize standardized, realistic, black-and-white diagrams to accurately document findings in patients affected by interpersonal violence will support best practice forensic documentation in multiple arenas. Examples of the diagrams are below and can be utilized as part of an electronic medical record or handwritten document in healthcare facilities, clinics, child advocacy centers, independent practices, or medical examiner offices. These standardized diagrams can also be utilized in the courtroom to educate the jury in a criminal or civil trial about injuries that may be difficult to appreciate with color photos.

Presenting Medical Illustrations

Finally, there are different presentation options. You may opt for traditional print formats—something tangible that can be left up in the courtroom for further review, or even passed out to jurors.

An animation, people are looking for that CSI Effect. Motion graphics are helpful to show complex surgeries or a medical theory or process with lots of steps. An interactive application may be beneficial. Interactive applications give you control to present material at your own pace. You can make prints of the still artwork to pass out or enlarge.

About the Author

Lindsay Coulter graduated with a BFA in medical illustration from the Cleveland Institute of Art—with medical classes taken at Case Western Reserve University. She is also a board-certified medical illustrator (CMI). Coulter works as a medical illustrator and owns ION Medical Designs, LLC. ION Medical Designs is a boutique medical illustration company that specializes in custom medical illustrations, 2D and 3D animations, interactive applications, timelines, VR, and augmented reality. She creates medical demonstratives for medical malpractice and personal injury cases to assist attorneys with their demand packages, mediations, and trials. She helps to create visuals of complex surgeries and injuries that are compelling and educational for a broad audience. Coulter has had the opportunity to work on some very high-profile and medically complex cases globally. To see additional samples of her work, check out the ION Medical Designs website, YouTube channel, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

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