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Mayo Clin Proc. 2000 Jun;75(6):562-7.

Comparison of premortem clinical diagnoses in critically iII patients and subsequent autopsy findings.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospitals Gasthuisberg, Leuven, Belgium.



To determine whether our practice of requesting an autopsy for patients who die in the medical intensive care unit (MICU) continues to be a valid approach to obtain clinically and educationally relevant findings.


In this retrospective study conducted in an adult MICU population of a university hospital, the clinical diagnoses and postmortem major diagnoses of 100 patients who died in 1996 (autopsy rate of 93%) were compared.


Eighty-one percent of the clinical diagnoses were confirmed at autopsy. In 16%, autopsy findings revealed a major diagnosis that, if known before death, might have led to a change in therapy and prolonged survival (class I missed major diagnoses). The most frequent class I missed major diagnoses were fungal infection, cardiac tamponade, abdominal hemorrhage, and myocardial infarction. Another 10% of autopsies revealed a diagnosis that, if known before death, would probably not have led to a change in therapy (class II error).


Autopsy remains an important tool for education and quality control. In contrast with historical series of 1 to 2 decades ago, there is a clear shift in the type of class I missed major diagnoses toward opportunistic infections. Bedside-applicable techniques such as electrocardiography with supplemental posterior leads, echocardiography, and meticulous abdominal ultrasonography might improve the outcome in selected MICU patients.

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