Objective: To develop a multi-institutional reference database of autopsy practice and performance for quality improvement purposes.
Design: In 1990, participants in the Q-Probes quality improvement program of the College of American Pathologists (CAP) each retrospectively evaluated the 25 most recently completed consecutive autopsy reports and determined the number of deaths and autopsies that occurred in their institutions during 1989.
Setting: Hospital-based autopsies excluding forensic cases and stillborn infants.
Participants: Four hundred ten institutions in the United States and eight institutions in Canada.
Main outcome measures: Completeness of face sheet information contained in final autopsy reports, turnaround time for completion of final reports, and institutional autopsy rates.
Results: In the aggregate database of 10003 autopsies, the following six data items (from a total of 21) were present in 95% to 100% of the final autopsy reports in at least 85% of the participating institutions: institution where autopsy was performed, patient's name, patient's sex, autopsy number, autopsy date, and prosecter's name. The turnaround times for the final autopsy reports were as follows: 30 days or less in 47.6% of the cases, 31 to 60 days in 28.8%, and more than 60 days in 23.7%. A higher median percentage of autopsy final reports were completed in 30 days or less in institutions with the following characteristics: nonteaching (P < .004), no pathology residency program (P < .002), and rural location (P < .027). A lower number of autopsies performed in 1989 was associated with a higher median percentage of final reports completed in 30 days or less (P < .007). The aggregate autopsy rate for all participating institutions was 12.4%, and the median rate was 8.3%. Median autopsy rates for teaching institutions and institutions with pathology residency training programs were 15% and 19%, respectively.
Conclusions: This multi-institutional study identified a core group of face sheet data items that were consistently present on final autopsy reports. However, the majority of the face sheet data items examined were inconsistently recorded. Approximately 75% of final autopsy report turnaround times were within the standard established by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Nearly two thirds of the institutions reported autopsy rates for 1989 of 0% to 10%.