The autopsy: a useful tool or an old relic?

J Pathol. 1988 Sep;156(1):9-14. doi: 10.1002/path.1711560105.


In a combined retrospective and prospective study, clinical and autopsy data were collected to assess the changes in autopsy rate in recent years, the attitudes of clinicians and pathologists to the autopsy, and the accuracy of ante-mortem diagnosis when compared with autopsy findings. Between 1962 and 1986, the total autopsy rate for hospital patients remained relatively constant, with an increase in Coroner's and a decrease in the hospital autopsy rate. Analysis of 5064 deaths over a 6-year period showed a significantly greater number of males than females coming to autopsy and a decrease in autopsy rate with age for both sexes. Attitudes to the autopsy were assessed using a questionnaire. The majority of clinicians considered the autopsy to be an important investigation despite new diagnostic techniques and confirmed its value in teaching and research. Seventy-seven per cent agreed that autopsy findings occasionally led to modification of the treatment of subsequent patients with the same condition. Pathologists disagreed that the autopsy is outdated in its present form and considered that not enough hospital autopsies are being requested. They also upheld its use and value in education. The cause of death as given by clinicians for a group of 60 patients was inaccurate in 12 cases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Autopsy*
  • Cause of Death
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies