Health professionals who encounter survivors of torture may do so in different capacities, and they may thus have slightly different but convergent duties:
- The health professional who is asked to examine an individual expressly for the purpose of providing a medical opinion in a report for a court or other judicial body will be fulfilling a forensic (medico-legal) role.
- A health professional who is acting as a care giver to an individual and who in the course of routine work notes signs and symptoms of ill-treatment, or to whom the individual complains of being previously subjected to ill-treatment, may need to make an accurate medical record of the findings in the medical notes.
- A health professional who forms part of a team visiting places of detention may record findings of ill-treatment in individuals, but this information may be used more generally in a report on the place of detention without actually forming part of a medico-legal report.
- Health professionals in primary care or emergency departments to whom the individual complains of ill-treatment or who note signs of torture. In such cases the health professional may not necessarily have to write a report, but may just need to know how to make a proper examination and a good set of medical notes, which document the care.
- Health professionals in hospitals or clinics who may be asked by, for example, police or military, to examine a detainee.
- Health professionals examining individuals in a specialist centre for survivors of torture
The first and foremost concern for the health professional is the immediate health and well-being of the torture survivor. Health professionals may have a therapeutic role in treating the patient, or a forensic role in establishing the possible causes and origins of injuries and trauma. There are concerns that having a dual role may create the perception of bias in the reporting. The health professional should therefore ensure that the individual is receiving any necessary medical care, taking into account that:
- Care includes immediate treatment and long-term rehabilitation for survivors of torture.
- Forms of torture may be used that are psychological or otherwise leave no persisting physical signs. It must always be emphasised that the absence of physical or psychological findings can never be considered to be evidence that ill-treatment did not occur.
- A psychological assessment of the individual should take place, noting any psychological effects that may be the result of torture or other ill-treatment.
- The strongest evidence supporting the allegation of torture is often of a medical or psychological nature. The health professional should record any external or physical evidence of injury or abuse and any psychological symptoms and signs.