COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT AUTOPSIES?

(To assist Primary MD in Obtaining Autopsy Consent)

 

Q. What do I do if there is no authorized representative (next of kin') available?

A. If unclaimed body, generally cannot perform autopsy.

Q. What about a situation where there's disagreement among the next of kin with equal status (e.g., patient's children) about whether to consent to an autopsy?

A. Can't accept consent if there is disagreement among those of equal status.

Q. Are there alternatives for obtaining consent if the person(s) are unable to come to the hospital to sign consent (e.g., phone consent). How do I arrange consent by telegram.

A. Phone consents are permitted. The physician must fill out the form him/herself: While on the phone with the next of kin, obtain verification next of kin's name/agent's, relationship, phone number and obtain verbal consent for the autopsy. There must be a second witness on the line when the phone consent is obtained and that witness must also sign the autopsy consent form.

Alternatively, you may have the relative call Western Union 1-800-325-6000 to send a collect telegram to:

Hospital Administrator:

Instruct the family to state in the telegram that "I am/ We are the __________(relationship to deceased patient) and am/are the closest living relative. I/We hereby grant permission for Carle Hospital to perform an autopsy on________________________ (name of deceased patient)."

Q. Don't we risk a malpractice suit if the autopsy reveals something unexpected such as a misdiagnosis or a latrogenic complication?

A. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and most Residency Review Committees require autopsies be performed and used for QA purposes. Such findings have significant positive educational value, permitting us to deliver better care to our patients and thus in the balance are highly worthwhile.

Q. Can I get an autopsy for my patient that dies outside of the hospital?

A. Yes. Call Administration to arrange for transporting the body to the hospital for the autopsy.

Q. How long is 'too long' after death to perform an autopsy?

A. If necessary, one can perform an autopsy many days after death. Even after the patient has been embalmed by the funeral home, a valid autopsy can still be performed.

Q. Will the family have to pay for an autopsy?

A. No.

Q. How will the autopsy affect the appearance of the body?

A. There will be no visible incision that would be seen on exposed areas.

Q. Will the autopsy in any other way interfere with the funeral preparations?

A. No. At most there will be a delay of a few hours if the consent is signed and processed in a timely manner. The autopsy should not interfere with the mortician's ability to prepare the body.

Q. What about examination of the brain?

A. It is automatically included in the consent for the autopsy.

Q. Can I obtain consent for a more limited autopsy (e.g. if the family will only agree to a liver biopsy on a patient who died with cryptogenic cirrhosis)

A. Yes, just specify limitations on the consent. However, we believe it's always best to have a complete autopsy.

Q. What do I do once I get the autopsy consent form signed?

A. Fill out the "Autopsy Information for Pathology" form (to orient the Pathologist to your clinical questions and whom to contact to attend the postmortem exam). Then return the medical record with the completed death packet including the autopsy consent to the chart. Contact Pathology directly to inform them of the impending autopsy.