The aim of the study was to use psychological theory to identify and evaluate factors influencing clinical autopsy requests. A series of pilot interviews were conducted with 20 clinicians to identify beliefs about the benefits and drawbacks, social groups and circumstances influential in the decision to make an autopsy request. The most common beliefs, together with measures of intention to request autopsies, were incorporated into a questionnaire which was distributed among all appropriate clinicians in four hospitals. Statistical analyses identified which beliefs had the most influence on clinicians' intentions to request autopsies. A total of 145 clinicians returned the questionnaire, a response rate of 42%. Clinicians were significantly more likely to request autopsy the more they thought that the outcome of requesting would be of educational value, would confirm clinical diagnoses, would not distress relatives, would not be time-consuming and that the request itself would receive support from their consultant. An autopsy request was unlikely in circumstances where clinicians felt uncomfortable when requesting relatives' permission and when the patients were elderly. The fear of causing distress to relatives and the degree of support from the clinician's consultant were found to be the strongest predictors of intention to request autopsies. These are two areas in which intervention could help to increase autopsy request rates.
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