Bronxville Pathology Associates

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The value of autopsies

The Autopsy is also called Postmortem Examination, quoting Giovanni Morgagni , "It is the place where death serves the living" ("Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succure vitae").

The autopsy is an elaborate medical procedure which includes an external and internal examination of the body after death. It is performed by a pathologist, a medical doctor specially trained for this procedure, able to identify the effects of disease on the body.

The pathologist will review the pertinent antemortem medical information, will use surgical techniques, microscopic and laboratory analysis to arrive at the final diagnosis.

What is the value of the Autopsy for families and society?

The College of American Pathologists ( recommends that an autopsy be conducted in all instances in which the cause of death is unclear or in which it is desirable to understand the decedent’s condition at death.

The autopsy or postmortem examination will:

• Assists in resolving grief and guilt.

• It is an important mechanism for closure.

• It answer questions related to the cause of death, medical care, disorders with familial or genetic implications and helps identify diagnostic processes not diagnosed in the ante-mortem procedures.

• Helps in setting insurance claims and assigning death benefits.

• Helps to ensure that the quality of medical diagnostics and care was in accordance with prevailing standards. It is consider an important tool in monitoring quality of care.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) of the US Department of Health and Human Services indicates that "extensive literature documents a high prevalence of errors in clinical diagnosis discovered at autopsy". The agency adds that "the autopsy is valuable for its role in medical education, the identification and characterization of new diseases, and contributions to the understanding of disease pathogenesis". It also emphasises that "the autopsy is a tool in performance measurements and improvement. Such benefits largely relate to the role of the autopsy in detecting errors in clinical diagnosis and unsuspected complications of treatment"

[Ref: Autopsy as an outcome and performance measure. Summary, Evidence Report/ Technology Assessment: Number 58 AHRQ Publication No. 03-E001. October 2002, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.]