[Applications and advantages of a multimedia system for autopsies ].Pathologica. 2001 Oct; 93(5):517-30.P
This work evaluates the benefits and applications of computers and multimedia systems in post-mortem examination practice and, more in particular, in the definition of data collection protocols. We examined issues concerning the different aims of autopsy (e.g. diagnostic, scientific, educational, legal), and found that the pathologist's main duty is to acquire a large amount of data in the best possible way. However, despite the will to carry out detailed post-mortem examinations, many pathologic anatomy services face objective difficulties in doing so, especially due to understaffing, lack of time and high costs. The Institute for Pathologic Anatomy of the University of Genoa has developed software for data handling and for outcome reporting, a particularly important aspect in fetal-perinatal diagnosis. The system consists of a relational database in a client-server environment (Fourth Dimension) with two integrated parts. The first part, with unrestricted access, contains patients' personal data, including gender, age, time and date of death, hospital department of origin, person and department requiring the post-mortem examination, hour and time of autopsy, pathologist's name, and clinical diagnosis of death. Using a scanner, a copy of the autopsy application is also field, together with the patient's medical file and any diagnostic images useful to document the case history. The second part of the information system is accessible by pathologists only, and contains the autopsy report. This part is organized to balance two different needs: it allows sufficient space and freedom for autopsy description while providing guidelines for presentation of the report. The structure of the conventional autopsy protocol has been maintained, with subdivisions for all the organs and apparatuses according to topographic criteria. Before this part, a section is dedicated to external cadaver examination and anthropometric data; weight, shape, volume and texture are described for each organ, together with external and cut-surface features. A third section allows the examiner to report other observations not requested previously, while a final section is also provided for the epicrisis and for the formulation of the final diagnosis, the same as that reported in the first form. The database is coupled with an interactive system for collecting voice comments, thereby replacing the need for tape-recorders in the autopsy room. The user can recall a dictation window, dictate a text, check spelling and insert additional text. The database is also coupled to an image acquisition system, on the assumption that moving images allow a more faithful documentation of reality. Therefore, all rooms in which autopsies are carried out on fetuses or neonates have been equipped with a fixed camera linked to a monitor and a video-recorder. A PCB, used for image digitalization, recognizes up to 16,000,000 different colors. Guided by dedicated software, image files are transferred to a computer and then saved with the autoptic report. The database can be consulted and queried in two principle ways: by key words in the contents or main disease descriptions, or by individual words or phrases contained within the complete text of the reports. The present database system for autopsy reporting has proved itself useful in a pathological anatomy service. The combined presence of images and texts renders the system useful also as a research tool. By linking to a Web site dedicated to pathologic anatomy, it will be possible to display online rare cases involving diagnostic difficulties. The system offers great advantages for present and retrospective diagnostics, as well as for research and education purposes.