Autopsy findings and clinical diagnoses: a review of 1,000 cases

Hum Pathol. 1993 Feb;24(2):194-8. doi: 10.1016/0046-8177(93)90300-6.


The protocols of 1,000 consecutive adult patients autopsied during the period June 1983 to December 1988 were retrospectively analyzed and the findings were compared with clinical diagnoses. The autopsy rates during this period ranged between 23% and 27% of hospital deaths. Eighty-seven percent of the autopsied patients were between 15 and 59 years of age. Major discrepancies between the autopsy reports and the clinical diagnoses were present in 31.7% of all autopsy reports reviewed. Infectious diseases were the most common cause of death (46.8%), followed by cardiovascular diseases (17.1%) and neoplastic diseases (14.3%). Infections were clinically recognized in 66.7% of cases and were missed or found to be incorrect in 33.3% of cases. Tuberculosis comprised 33.8% of the major bacterial infections and was clinically diagnosed in 82% of cases. Eighty-nine percent of the major fungal infections were not suspected clinically. Rheumatic heart disease (43.8%) was the most common cardiovascular disorder and was clinically diagnosed in 93.3% of cases. Pulmonary vascular episodes were the least common cause of death and were not suspected clinically in 62.9% of cases. Malignancies were incorrectly diagnosed in 25.8% of cases. We conclude from this study that routine autopsies revealed major unexpected findings that are of clinical importance, and that a continued emphasis on autopsy evaluation is necessary for the improvement of the quality of patient care.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autopsy*
  • Cause of Death
  • Diagnostic Errors*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies