Fewer Hospital Autopsies Mean More Undiscovered Medical Errors: Part 2

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As discussed in the previous post, a recent investigative series by ProPublica reveals that there has been a downward trend in the last 50 years in the number of routine autopsies that hospitals perform in Ohio and around the country. Autopsies can help doctors continue to learn as they practice medicine because they can find out the reason why a person died.

This means they can check whether their diagnosis was correct or wrong and how effective certain therapies or treatments were or whether they made worsened a person’s condition. Without autopsies, doctors mistakes can be buried with the patient.

As noted in the previous post, one reason doctors do not perform autopsies is because they are more confident that new technologies are resulting in more precise and accurate diagnoses. Studies have shown, however, that even with sophisticated medical equipment doctors still have high rates of common diagnostic errors that were either related to a patient’s cause of death or were severe enough to have led directly to the patient’s death.

Only by conducting an autopsy – also known as “the ultimate medical audit” – can a doctor’s mistakes be discovered. Without that discovery, doctors unknowingly and recklessly continue to repeat their mistakes. As a result, medical malpractice can often go unnoticed and unpunished.

Another negative implication of hospitals conducting fewer autopsies is that without autopsies doctors cannot confirm a patient’s exact cause of death. Autopsies can often reveal surprise medical ailments that went undiscovered, undiagnosed and untreated, and therefore can lead to wrongful deaths that go unreported.

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

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