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Medical malpractice evidence lost without routine autopsies: Part 1

The news organizations ProPublica and NPR have been working on an ongoing journalistic investigation of the death investigation system in America and its flaws. One of the most recent installments looks into the increasing lack of routine autopsies by hospitals when someone dies unexpectedly or without a known cause.

ProPublica reports that routine autopsies were common 50 years ago, but now hospitals rarely perform them. Autopsies were seen as a medical audit to help doctors know what caused a death in order to shed knowledge on whether there was a misdiagnosis or other misunderstood element of the patient's condition that led to their death.

This kind of routine auditing of medical work could help build knowledge and a learning curve in order to prevent future mistakes and repeated medical malpractice.

Without these routine autopsies, hospitals end up literally burying their mistake as ProPublica points out. Hospitals now perform autopsies on about 5 percent of patients. There is no requirement for hospitals to perform autopsies nor will insurance companies pay for these procedures. This is partly because of the fear that the procedures will reveal that the doctors made mistakes and will be sued for medical malpractice or wrongful death.

The next post will further discuss this issue.

Source: ProPublica, "Without Autopsies, Hospitals Bury Their Mistakes," Marshall Allen, Dec. 15, 2011

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