AIM: To assess the role of a quality assurance programme in improving the service provided by a surgical pathology department. METHODS: A continuous internal quality assurance study of the activities of an anatomical pathology department in an Australian teaching hospital was undertaken over a five year period. This addressed all steps involved in the production of a surgical pathology report. These were addressed in an open forum which included technical, scientific, clerical, and medical staff. Minor errors not needing immediate action were discussed and incorporated into laboratory practice. For major discrepancies with potential implications for patient management supplementary reports were issued and the relevant clinician informed of the outcome. RESULTS: Comprehensive peer review of 8.9% of the total workload of the department (3530 cases) and all the frozen sections (916 cases) over a period of five years, beginning in 1991, led to comments on some aspects of the original report by the reviewer in 19.6% of the cases. The great majority of the comments were minor, concerning issues related to the microscopic findings (4%), macroscopic description (3.1%), clerical aspects (3%), typographical errors (3%), coding errors (2.7%), technical errors including poor sections and incorrect labelling (1.7%), inadequate clinical history (1.2%), and incomplete or incomprehensible diagrams (0.9%). In two cases (0.05%) the original report did not state proximity of the tumour to surgical margins and in three of the frozen sections (0.3%) the original diagnosis was incorrect. However, in these cases the frozen section assessment did not alter the overall management of the cases. CONCLUSIONS: This study highlights the importance of a review system in detecting errors in surgical pathology reporting. Recognition of the fact that surgical pathology is not infallible has improved the end product. It has also minimised interobserver variability in the department, resulting in a uniform approach among the pathologists to macroscopic description, specimen sampling, special stains, and histological reporting.