View Full Version : A quick question (or three) about the medical/police aspects of interviewing a hospital patient

Los Pollos Hermanos
04-17-2014, 03:53 AM
Again, I'd pretty please appreciate some assistance for one of the US-based sections of my story.

Setting: Small(ish) town on the NV/CA border.

Situation: A female character has been attacked and undergone emergency surgery the previous evening. Her condition is now stable in the local hospital's medical-surgical unit. A local detective needs to interview her about what she remembers and permission has been granted by the doctor in charge of the unit (bwt - would this be the "chief physician" - or is there another term?). The patient's husband - who is unconnected to the crime - is in law enforcement, but is being kept away from the case due to there being a conflict of interests (much to his resentment).

1). Would a nurse also be present in the patient's room to assess how well the patient was coping with the interview?
2). Would the patient's husband be allowed to be present for the interview in a being-supportive-to-his-wife capacity, so long as he didn't attempt to become involved in the questioning side of things?
3). Would there be a time limit imposed on the detective as to the length of the interview?

Anything else pertinent to this scenario would also be appreciated.

Big thanks in advance,


04-17-2014, 04:17 PM
Just because I see you're in England, is that also where your story is set?

04-17-2014, 04:46 PM
If she is stable and not in intensive care, pretty much anything goes these days in hospital rooms. Depending on the attitude of the small-town, the power in the room could be with the nurse, the doctor, or the police, whatever works for your story. In other words, if you need the doctor to push the detective out, that's perfectly reasonable. At the same time, if you need the detective to threaten the nurse with arrest for interferening with his questioning, that happens, too. These days, in the US, the idea of a doctor throwing a police officer out of, well, anywhere, really only occurs in the movies.

Los Pollos Hermanos
04-17-2014, 05:41 PM
Many thanks for the replies!

Some of the story takes place in NW England, the rest is split between various parts of the US (Denver/Colorado, Tahoe/Reno and suburban Los Angeles being the main three places, with a dash of NYC thrown in for good measure). England is too small, overpopulated, cold and damp for those sections of the story and I enjoy carrying out accurate location-based research. ;) This part takes place in the (stunningly beautiful) Tahoe area.

I've got the first part of the scene provisionally written where there's just the detective interviewing her, with the nurse sat in the backround keeping an eye on the patient (this works nicely, and there's no friction between the nurse and the detective). However, the patient wants her husband beside her, and this is where I don't know how to play it.

Her husband is in law enforcement (it's a complicated situation, but I've had it "approved" by my contact at FBI HQ) but can't be involved in the investigation for both personal and professional reasons.

As I see it, there's two options:
1). He's not allowed in, and his wife gets really distressed.
2). He's allowed in, on the condition he holds her hand and keeps his mouth shut.

I'd personally prefer the latter, and he's the type who would begrudgingly co-operate with such an order. However, based on him being a "cop" and the complicated situation I previously referred to, would it be more likely for the detective to order him to keep out during the interview, given the complexities of the case?



04-17-2014, 06:10 PM
Could the detective order him out of the room? Sure. Is there a legal basis for that in the US? Not really. Spousal protections are very, very strong in the US legal system. He would absolutely have the right to be in that room. Of course, the detective could easily tell him to keep his mouth shut and it would be entirely believable, IMO.

04-17-2014, 06:40 PM
if she is in med surg, yes the police can interview her, yes the husband can be there. it would not be the UNIT's doctor, the police would go through, it would be HER doctor- there is no unit doctor.

and as said, she's stable, so yeah they don't need permission, but they would need to go through hospital administration to smooth it over and make nice with the hospital. they might also need the patient's permission- not sure about that one though. the hospital might set up the interview in a conference room so they have privacy. they would take her in a wheelchair and all that.

Los Pollos Hermanos
04-17-2014, 09:25 PM
Thanks again!

I'll tweak the scene so her husband is there from the beginning, under strict orders from the detective not to interfere with the interview. It's under 24 hours since she was attacked and, according to the medical research I've done, she'd remain in bed for at least a day after the type of surgery she's had. The door to her room is closed for the duration of the interview and the blinds adjusted to ensure privacy. It's a relatively short interview, to be followed up the next day with a more detailed version if necessary.

04-18-2014, 05:14 AM
FWIW... We always tried to conduct the interview of a potential witness in a controlled manner, without any outside influences or anyone other than my partner present - and always as a team (two of us to facilitate initial corroboration as to what each of us heard).

Medical professionals weren't a problem as a rule. Most of the curious lost interest when we explained they could be subpoenaed to give testimony as to what they were about to see and hear. This generally didn't faze the old pros; but then they'd often been to court enough to know the ropes.

If a spouse or significant other insisted on being present, and we could not persuade them otherwise, we'd go ahead and conduct the interview as best we could. However, we always made a point of conducting a second interview of both parties separately as soon as pragmatically possible. Overly concerned/protective significant others always got our spidey senses tingling - sometimes for very good reason. Some level of further scrutiny of that relationship was pretty routine.

We always got variations in witnesses accounts - that's to be expected. But we often garnered far more specific details when the witness/interviewee was alone. The proximity of a concerned loved one tended to somewhat inhibit the candid responses we needed to work the case to the best of our abilities.

04-18-2014, 07:05 AM
As a rule most nurses wouldn't want to be in the room when a witness is being interviewed. Doing that is basically asking to kill a day sitting a room being deposed by a lawyer. A day you don't get paid for btw.

Los Pollos Hermanos
04-18-2014, 02:15 PM
Big thanks, again...

The (brief*) interview takes place in her hospital room. Without going into detail about the plot, the police and FBI have Big Suspicions that the perp is "Mr Bad Guy" (as I shall refer to him here) and need any info she can recall. The FBI is involved as Mr Bad Guy has been a very naughty boy in four states, caused a bit of trouble in three others AND likes to travel abroad. ;)

* They're planning on coming back for another more in-depth interview the next day.

Her husband (the "cop" of sorts - can't reveal more) has a water-tight alibi for the time of the attack - in a café with their kids, lots of people around, etc, etc. Knowing how police interviews work, he begrudgingly accepts he'll have to be out of her room for the actual interview, but she wants him there. He's entirely innocent in all of this, btw.

This is my main dilemma: husband not present and his wife get upset or husband is present and there's a conflict of interests.

So... I could tweak the interview scene to have:

## The nurse not being there, after checking the patient is still up to being interviewed as decreed by her doctor.

## The victim's husband telling her that he can't be in the room because of the conflict of interests, and then leaving the room. She'll be upset because she doesn't know Mr Bad Guy is a prime suspect, and her husband does - but he can't tell her.

## A local police detective interviewing her along with an agent from the FBI's local Resident Agency. They know each other from previous cases and work well together/are occasional drinking buddies - none of that TV/movie "we hate the Feds interferring" which apparently doesn't happen that often in real life.

The hospital has a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (although there hasn't been a sexual assault in this case) who took skin scrapings from beneath the victim's fingernails. The FBI put a rush on the DNA testing, but it might be another 48 hours until the results are back*, so they can't afford to wait until then to interview her.

* Possible in Uber-Urgent cases apparently, according to a contact I have in Lancashire Police - and if they can do that the FBI definitely can. :D

I think that's all. Many thanks again for all your help.