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The potential use of autopsy for continuous quality improvement in hospice and palliative care

In 2006, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) contracted with The Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence (CCME), the Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) for North and South Carolina, to develop an instrument package and procedures for hospice and palliative care programs to assess and monitor the quality of the care that they provide. As part of our work, we investigated the potential uses of autopsy for continuous quality improvement purposes.

Our objective is to understand (1) the potential benefits and uses of autopsy for various constituents, (2) the reasons for the decline in the use of autopsy despite these potential benefits, (3) the practical aspects of autopsy in the hospice setting, and (4) current hospice practices in regard to autopsy.

To achieve these goals, we reviewed the existing literature and interviewed stakeholders, including hospice and palliative care providers, professional organizations and advocacy groups, quality improvement and measurement experts, and pathologists.

Important barriers limit the use of autopsy to understand and improve quality of care in hospice, including costs, unintended consequences, and the limited ability to systematically use autopsy information to improve care. Some themes were more predominant among providers, whereas others emerged primarily from interviews with nonproviders.

On the basis of existing research and stakeholder interviews, autopsy is currently not a feasible mechanism to improve quality of care in hospice. If financial and attitudinal barriers are reduced, a systematic sampling of deaths for autopsy may provide evidence for the value of this information source.


Rokoske, F., Schenck, AP., & Hanson, LC. (2008). The potential use of autopsy for continuous quality improvement in hospice and palliative care. Medscape journal of medicine, 10(12), 289.