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Autopsies rare in U.S. hospitals

The Washington Post, May 17, 2011

Television crime shows have helped popularize autopsies, but in reality these postmortem exams are becoming rarer every year. Today, hospitals perform autopsies on only about 5% of patients who die, down from roughly 50% in the 1960s. That's unfortunate, say experts, because details about the cause of death can be illuminating for both families and hospitals, even if they don't turn up an undiagnosed ailment or other new information about the cause of death. Autopsies play a critical role in helping to advance understanding of the progress of a disease and the effectiveness of various treatments. At the same time, they may identify medical conditions that clinicians and high-tech imaging miss or misdiagnose.

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