Autopsies and medical malpractice

Contrary that what you might think from watching TV, hospitals are not to required to perform or offer autopsies and they usually don’t in most cases. Also, insurance companies won’t cover the cost of an autopsy.

The main reason, according to consumer advocates is that physicians and hospitals fear a an autopsy could reveal medical malpractice.

The laws vary from state to state, but most deaths in hospitals are legally considered natural  therefore there is no legal requirement to perform an autopsy.  In the cases of unexplained deaths, hospitals are required to notify the coroner or medical examiner’s office.

.A 2011 investigation by the consumer group Pro Publica found

Diagnostic errors, which studies show are common, go undiscovered, allowing physicians to practice on other patients with a false sense of security. Opportunities are lost to learn about the effectiveness of medical treatments and the progression of diseases. Inaccurate information winds up on death certificates, undermining the reliability of crucial health statistics.

50 years ago autopsies were routine and required and were an invaluable tool to gain knowledge about disease and treatment therapies. That is no longer the case. An autopsy costs on average around $1,275, and since insurance doesn’t cover it as an expense, they don’t bother.

In 2002, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality 2002 review of academic studies by the found that when patients were autopsied, major errors related to the principle diagnosis or underlying cause of death were found in one of four cases. In one of 10 cases, the error appeared severe enough to have led to the patient’s death.

As far back as 1999 groups like the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission issued a report promoting the idea of increasing the number of  clinical autopsies which could “improve health care and reduce errors.”

Healthcare advocacy organizations like National Quality Forum and The Joint Commission have refused to advocate increased autopsy rates despite the overwhelming evidence the benefits in improving care and treatment.



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