In this study, we examined in detail the patterns of autopsy rates for a half century (1935 through 1985) among residents of Olmsted County, Minnesota. The time trend of the autopsy in this community represents, in many respects, a microcosm of national trends. In the process of this analysis, we identified several medical and socioeconomic variables that may influence the rate of autopsy, including the age at death, physical location of death, gender, surgical procedures preceding death, immediate cause of death, and direct and indirect costs of the autopsy. In particular, the advancing mean age at death and the increase of the nursing home as a social phenomenon seem to have had a profound effect on autopsy rates both in Olmsted County and throughout the United States.
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