Will Medical Examiners be replaced by technology? A new study conducted by British researchers indicates that screening bodies with full-body computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), along with a quick heart test, could result in determining the cause of death in up to half the cases referred for autopsy.
Study co-author Ian Roberts, a pathologist at the University of Oxford, and his team examined 182 bodies with unknown deaths. All 182 underwent a CT scan and MRI. Radiologists examined the results and came up with a cause of death based on each set of images. For testing purposes, the radiologists also ranked how confident they were with their findings, classifying each one as either definite, probably, possible, or uncertain. Autopsies were then performed by pathologists.
According to ScienceNews.org, the radiologists’ results agreed with autopsy findings 68% of the time, while results from MRI’s were accurate 57% of the time. CT results that were marked as definite matched autopsy findings 84% of the time, but only one-third of the CT results were classified as definite. In addition, CT scans weren’t helpful with spotting heart problems, although data suggests that performing a heart angiogram after a CT scan could increase the accuracy of results in at least half of all cases, with only a slight rate of error.
While CT’s and MRI’s could remove some of the problems associated with an invasive autopsy, such as when the procedure is fought because of cultural or religious beliefs, I think pathologists and medical examiners don’t have to worry about losing their jobs to technology in the foreseeable future. Results just don’t seem to show true effectiveness at this time, although I imagine the accuracy will be improved with further testing, and it seems like a lot of the problem stems from radiologists not having the comfort level to mark their findings as ‘definite,’ when their results might have actually been accurate. Also, CT scans and MRI’s aren’t cheap, so budgetary concerns will most likely keep those procedures from becoming a viable alternative.