The changing profile of autopsied deaths in the United States, 1972-2007

Donna L Hoyert
NCHS Data Brief 2011, (67): 1-8
An autopsy, the medical examination of a deceased person, may confirm clinical findings, provide more complete information to describe cause of death, or uncover conditions not recognized clinically prior to death. Two types are performed in the United States: a) hospital or clinical autopsies, which family or physicians request to clarify cause of death or assess care, and b) medicolegal autopsies, which legal officials order to further investigate the circumstances surrounding a death. The autopsy rate, or percentage of deaths that received this final assessment, was stable from the 1950s until the beginning of the 1970s, when the autopsy rate began to decrease. This report uses mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) over a 35-year period to examine changes in the autopsy rate and in the distribution of those autopsied by age and cause. Variation in autopsy patterns has implications for which deaths may have a more complete and conclusive cause-of-death determination.

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