Is it a surprise for you to see the terms autopsy and high-tech in the same sentence? It's no surprise in the mind of Dr. Bruce Levy. He is a forensic pathologist with a national reputation who completed a fellowship in pathology informatics at the MGH. He is now serving as Director of Pathology Informatics in the Department of Pathology, University of Illinois College of Medicine, Chicago. He is also Associate Chief Health Information Officer for the University of Illinois Hospital. He will be delivering a lecture entitled Can We Resurrect the Autopsy in the High Tech/IT World? as part of a continuing series of pathology informatics webinars sponsored by the Association for Pathology Informatics (API) and Sunquest. The date and time for the event are October 24 at 10 a.m. PDT/1pm EDT.
The autopsy has remained unchallenged for decades as the gold standard for determining the cause of death and documenting disease and injury. As medical technology advances, however, the number of autopsies performed for non-forensic deaths continues to dwindle drastically (see: Autopsy Rate and Physician Attitudes Toward Autopsy). Here is an excerpt from this article:
The highest autopsy rates have been reported from a small proportion of hospitals (mainly academic hospitals); in general, it is likely that hospitals in which autopsies are not performed outnumber those in which autopsies are performed. It has been estimated that in the United States before 1970, autopsies were performed in 40% to 60% of all cases involving hospital deaths; in recent years, that number has decreased to approximately 5%. Data from the United States National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) have shown that the autopsy rate has decreased from 19.1% of all deaths in 1972 to 8.3% in 2003. More recent data from an August 2011 NCHS Data Brief have shown a slight increase in the autopsy rate from 8.3% to 8.5% for 2007, with approximately half of the autopsies performed for deaths due to disease and half due to external causes.
The still vital autopsy needs to take advantage of informatics and the high-tech/IT world of today to restore its relevance for 21st century medicine. Highlights of this webinar presentation will include:
- History of the autopsy.
- Possible explanation for the falling autopsy rates.
- Proposed alternatives to the autopsy - the "virtual" autopsy.
- Suggestions of how informatics and technology can make autopsies more relevant.
You can register for the webinar here. No pathologist or anyone interested in pathology should miss this presentation. It covers a topic that has long been neglected. It's time that we begin to integrate autopsy findings into the laboratory/pathology database and also into the EHR for retrospective research.