Minimally invasive autopsy for fetuses and children based on a combination of post-mortem MRI and endoscopic examination: a feasibility study.Health Technol Assess 2019; 23(46):1-104HT
Less invasive perinatal and paediatric autopsy methods, such as imaging alongside targeted endoscopy and organ biopsy, may address declining consent rates for traditional autopsy, but their acceptability and accuracy are not known.
The aims of this study were to provide empirical data on the acceptability and likely uptake for different types of autopsy among key stakeholders (study 1); and to analyse existing autopsy data sources to provide estimates of the potential efficacy of less invasive autopsy (LIA) and its projected utility in clinical practice (study 2).
Study 1: this was a mixed-methods study. Parents were involved in research design and interpretation of findings. Substudy 1: a cross-sectional survey of 859 parents who had experienced miscarriage, termination of pregnancy for fetal anomaly, stillbirth, infant or child death, and interviews with 20 responders. Substudy 2: interviews with 25 health professionals and four coroners. Substudy 3: interviews with 16 religious leaders and eight focus groups, with 76 members of the Muslim and Jewish community. Study 2: a retrospective analysis of national data in addition to detailed information from an existing in-house autopsy database of > 5000 clinical cases that had undergone standard autopsy to determine the proportion of cases by clinical indication group for which tissue sampling of specific internal organs significantly contributed to the diagnosis.
Substudy 1: 91% of participants indicated that they would consent to some form of LIA, 54% would consent to standard autopsy, 74% to minimally invasive autopsy (MIA) and 77% to non-invasive autopsy (NIA). Substudy 2: participants viewed LIA as a positive development, but had concerns around the limitations of the technology and de-skilling the workforce. Cost implications, skills and training requirements were identified as implementation challenges. Substudy 3: religious leaders agreed that NIA was religiously permissible, but MIA was considered less acceptable. Community members indicated that they might consent to NIA if the body could be returned for burial within 24 hours. Study 2: in 5-10% of cases of sudden unexplained death in childhood and sudden unexplained death in infants, the final cause of death is determined by routine histological sampling of macroscopically normal organs, predominantly the heart and lungs, and in this group routine histological sampling therefore remains an important aspect of investigation. In contrast, routine histological examination of macroscopically normal organs rarely (< 0.5%) provides the cause of death in fetal cases, making LIA and NIA approaches potentially highly applicable.
A key limitation of the empirical research is that it is hypothetical. Further research is required to determine actual uptake. Furthermore, because of the retrospective nature of the autopsy data set, findings regarding the likely contribution of organ sampling to final diagnosis are based on extrapolation of findings from historical autopsies, and prospective data collection is required to validate the conclusions.
LIA is viable and acceptable (except for unexplained deaths), and likely to increase uptake. Further health economic, performance and implementation studies are required to determine the optimal service configuration required to offer this as routine clinical care.
The National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme.