Aim: To determine whether the cause of death can be accurately predicted from the pre-necropsy information available in coroners’ cases, before carrying out a postmortem examination.
Methods: In this prospective study pathologists read the clinical summary provided by the Coroner’s Office and formulated a predicted cause of death. An external examination was then conducted and any relevant information recorded, together with any changes to the original predicted cause of death. They then carried out a complete necropsy before recording a final cause of death, which was subsequently compared with their prediction.
Results: A total of 95 necropsies were included in the study. The cause of death was deemed to have been correctly predicted from the history in 62 cases (65.3%). In 33 cases (34.7%) an unexpected cause of death was found. Findings from the external examination were noteworthy in only 8 cases (8.4%), and did not alter the cause of death in any case.
Conclusions: In certain circumstances an accurate cause of death may be given with confidence without the apparent need for necropsy. However, many common causes of death can present with similar or misleading scenarios. This study indicates that performing necropsies, despite seemingly predictable circumstances, is advisable if an accurate cause of death is to be recorded.
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Competing interests: None declared.