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Editor's Correspondence
March 23, 1998

The Benefits of Performing Autopsies

Author Affiliations

Copyright 1998 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.1998

Arch Intern Med. 1998;158(6):680. doi:

I think the series "Autopsy and Medicine" is an excellent idea. The majority of journals emphasize either basic science or diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Pathophysiologic factors are often omitted, and yet they are the foundation for diagnosis and treatment. Diseases are often viewed as patient complaints, images on radiographs, abnormal laboratory values, and findings on a typed report, not as functional or physical changes in organs. I was very fortunate because I had the opportunity to work with a pathologist during my residency. We reviewed about 120 autopsies during a 3-year period. The experience significantly changed my approach to learning and improved my ability to understand what was happening in an ill patient. For example, I remember seeing a transmural myocardial infarction with a papillary muscle rupture that was the cause of death in my patient as well as I remember seeing a cholecystectomy for impacted gallstones during my surgery rotation. In addition, a recent editorial1 pointed out the benefits of requesting an autopsy, such as detecting unexpected findings that were missed in the premortem diagnoses. Since this was my experience also, I do not hesitate to ask for permission to perform an autopsy. I am convinced that for experience and judgment in the physician's tree of knowledge to grow, there must be strong roots in pathophysiologic principles.

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