Autopsy has traditionally been the criterion for determining cause of death and has played a major role in medical education and quality control. With increasing use of bedside technology, however, autopsy rates have steadily declined.
To identify (1) trends in pediatric autopsy rates during the past decade, (2) concordance between antemortem and postmortem diagnoses, and (3) patient characteristics influencing autopsy rates or diagnostic yield.
All pediatric deaths between January 1, 1984, and December 31, 1993, were retrospectively reviewed. Data collection included demographics for all patients, and length of stay, diagnostic imaging studies, antemortem diagnoses, and autopsy findings for patients with autopsies. Autopsy diagnoses were compared with antemortem findings and classified according to their concordance.
Of 297 pediatric deaths, autopsies were performed on 107 patients (36%). Autopsy rates did not change significantly during the study period. Autopsies were not associated with patient gender, race, or insurance status, but increased significantly with age. Autopsies were performed in 26% of infants 12 months or younger, 60% of children between 13 to 60 months of age, and 100% of children 61 months or older (χ2; P<.001). In 34% of cases, new diagnoses were made at autopsy, including 7 cases where new findings, if known before death, would likely have resulted in a change in treatment or improved survival. There was no relationship between new findings at autopsy and age, length of hospital stay, or antemortem imaging studies.
Autopsy can provide additional information in more than one third of pediatric deaths. Pediatric autopsy continues to provide clinically significant data and remains a valuable tool in modern pediatric practice.