Perceived value of trauma autopsy among trauma medical directors and coroners

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Introduction: Although autopsy is acknowledged as essential for improving quality of medical care of trauma patients and accuracy of injury surveillance systems, the autopsy rate has remained well below 100% for certain categories of trauma. We obtained recent documentation of the frequency of autopsy among trauma-related deaths in Ohio, and surveyed coroners and trauma program medical directors (TMDs) about the perceived benefits and challenges of performing autopsy. Materials and methods: Copies of death certificates were obtained for the years 1996-2001. Death and autopsy rates were calculated and examined for trends over time. Surveys covering the topics of mechanisms of injury prompting autopsy, uses and users of autopsy data, and barriers to performing autopsy were sent to Ohio's coroners, coroners from nearby states, and Ohio TMDs. The χ2-test for trend analysed autopsy rates over time, while responses among groups were compared using the χ2-test. Results: The autopsy rate for injury related deaths increased from 50% in 1996 to 66.5% in 2001 (p = .0018). During the study period the volume of autopsies rose by 18%, from 2990 to 3546. There was no review by the coroner in almost 10% of trauma deaths. TMDs more often indicated that autopsies advance medical knowledge than did Ohio and non-Ohio coroners (62.9% versus 33.4% and 47.6%, respectively, p = .016). TMDs more frequently reported themselves as users of autopsy information than did Ohio and non-Ohio coroners (91.4% versus 14.6% and 20%, respectively, p < .0001). All groups reported inadequate funds and personnel as the two most common barriers to performing autopsies, although TMDs were more likely to identify these as barriers than coroners (p < .0001). Almost 27% of Ohio coroners agreed with the statement, "I do not feel that trauma-related autopsies are necessary". Conclusion: Significant barriers exist to improving autopsy rates among trauma patients who die. These include not only more well-recognised impediments such as inadequate funds and personnel, but less commonly reported issues concerning differing points of view on the role of trauma-related autopsy among coroners and TMDs. To improve trauma-related autopsy rates, each of these issues requires attention and cooperation among all parties. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.




Santanello, S., Dean, D., Hayes, J. R., Bonta, M., Groner, J., Martin, L., … Bechtel, N. (2008). Perceived value of trauma autopsy among trauma medical directors and coroners. Injury, 39(9), 1075–1081.

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