Several things can interfere with the autopsy and the results.
Ideally, an autopsy should be done in a timely fashion, generally within several days of death. In some cases, such as evaluation for metabolic disease in an unborn baby (fetus) or infant, prompt tissue sampling is important to improve the likelihood of establishing a diagnosis. But even after a number of days, an autopsy may still provide useful information.
The training and experience of the pathologist may influence the quality of the autopsy. Access to consultant pathologists with training in specialized areas and to other experts, such as toxicologists and geneticists, may be helpful in complicated cases. For example, neuropathologists have special expertise in the diagnosis of neurological (brain) diseases; pediatric pathologists may have special expertise in diseases of infants or unborn babies. Families may wish to talk with their doctor for assistance in finding a competent, experienced pathologist.
Autopsy procedures may differ for each deceased person depending on the medical history of the person, the circumstances surrounding the death, questions the person's doctors and family members would like answered, and the findings at the initial dissection. It is important that the family members and doctors discuss their questions and concerns with the pathologist before the autopsy is performed, so that the autopsy can be individualized and samples can be obtained that may allow performance of specialized tests. Samples may not be retained for specialized tests (such as genetic, toxicology, or paternity testing) unless specific requests are made at the time of the autopsy.
Autopsy is not an accepted procedure for some cultures, ethnic groups, and religions. If an autopsy is not required by law because of the circumstances of death, it will not be performed unless the family gives specific permission.