Nursing home autopsies. Survey of physician attitudes and practice patterns

P R Katz, G Seidel
Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine 1990, 114 (2): 145-7
Autopsy rates remain disturbingly low in nursing homes despite the fact that 1 of 5 deaths occurs in this setting. To determine the autopsy rate for nursing homes, we analyzed all deaths occurring in New York State nursing homes from 1980 to 1984. Of 58,985 nursing home deaths, autopsies were performed in only 499 cases (0.8%). In comparison to the general nursing home population, autopsied residents were more likely to be male and never married and less likely to be widowed. Of 110 practicing nursing home physicians surveyed, 19% believed autopsies had little if any value in the nursing home population, whereas 71% saw autopsy as a valuable tool but rarely requested one. Fewer than 1 in 10 physicians routinely discussed autopsies with patients and/or families before death. Perceived obstacles included the emotional lability of patients and families and a lack of financial reimbursement. Concerns over religious objections, funeral delays, and unnecessary mutilation were cited by fewer than one third of respondents. Facilitation of consent, physician education, and cost sharing may all contribute to enhanced rates of autopsies in the future.

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