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Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2007 Feb;131(2):268-74.

Relevance of the autopsy as a medical tool: a large database of physician attitudes.

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  • 1Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, 8700 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048, USA.



Autopsy rates for patients dying in hospitals have declined from approximately 50% in the 1950s to 5% or less today.


To investigate the nature of physician attitudes about autopsy in a large and varied population and to relate these attitudes to certain physician demographic variables.


A 10-question, anonymous, multiple-choice format questionnaire was distributed to all attending physicians at 4 hospitals: 2 that were university-affiliated (1 private and 1 public), 1 military, and 1 private nonuniversity-affiliated medical center. A total of 2608 surveys were distributed.


Three hundred eighty-eight (15%) physicians responded to the survey. Respondents agreed (77%) that autopsy results could affect their future medical practice, and disagreed (73%) that the accuracy of modern diagnostic procedures makes autopsy unnecessary. Most respondents (72%) disagreed that litigation concerns play a role in the decision to request autopsy. Spearman correlation coefficients found 9 significant relationships among the survey items, with many correlations reflecting statistically significant relationships between demographic and attitudinal variables.


The survey data and statistical analysis confirm that respondents value the autopsy as a relevant clinical tool, in spite of declining requests. One of the most crucial factors influencing attitudes is the physician's level of experience with autopsy in training and practice. Among other interesting results was that strength of belief in autopsy relevancy correlates significantly (P = .003) with greater prior exposure to the autopsy. In a sense, the current low autopsy rates may be self-perpetuating because of the paucity of and decreasing experience with autopsy by succeeding generations of clinicians.

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