The Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality recently conducted an analysis of 50 autopsy studies going back forty years to show the importance of autopsies in revealing discrepancies in diagnosis that could be clinically informative. The study indicated that the correct cause of death escapes clinical detection in about 8 to 23 per cent of cases. Out of this, in about 4 to 8 per cent of cases, the patient might have been harmed by the misdiagnosis.
The researchers pointed out that there are many reasons why discrepancies can occur between clinical examination and autopsy findings which could be as varied as the patient having presented with atypical symptoms of a disease, or due to limited information from lab results. Sometimes a doctor may fail to consider a broad enough range of possible diagnosis or the doctor may misinterpret findings.
Autopsies are important because having the wrong information on a death certificate distorts information on patterns of disease and health policy formulated as a result. However, researchers say that in the recent years the number of autopsies performed have been greatly reduced - from 50 per cent in the 1960s to less than 6 per cent. This could be attributed to today's physicians being less familiar with procedures surrounding autopsy or simply due to high costs.