REVIEW
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Maximizing the benefits of autopsy for clinicians and families. What needs to be done.

The benefits of autopsy, both for clinicians and families, are reviewed. The autopsy rate in the United States has fallen dramatically in the past 50 years. The many factors contributing to this decline are summarized. For clinicians and families to receive the maximum benefits from the autopsy will require (1) altering methods of obtaining consent (eg, using trained autopsy advocates and enhancing awareness of cultural issues); (2) altering autopsy procedures (eg, decreasing turnaround time; discussing issues and concerns with clinicians; and issuing more detailed, less technical reports); (3) improving communication with clinicians and families (eg, collecting clinician and family contact information on autopsy permits; inviting attendings, housestaff, and students to attend gross conferences; making telephone calls regarding unexpected findings; guaranteeing reports to clinicians; writing nontechnical summary letters to clinicians and families when the final report is completed; and conducting postautopsy conferences); and (4) educating both medical professionals and public citizens about the value of autopsy (eg, featuring autopsy results in medical conferences, distributing educational materials, and using print and electronic media).

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