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The first of what a Malaysian entrepreneur hopes will be a worldwide chain of virtual autopsy facilities is scheduled to open this October in England.

Matt Chandran said 3-D imaging software from his company iGene can turn any CT or MRI scanner into a virtual autopsy machine. He told Reuters he plans to offer what he calls Autopsy as a Service, starting in October with a digital autopsy facility in the northern English city of Sheffield. It’s to be the first of at least 18 United Kingdom facilities, each near a mortuary.

Chandran said that about 70 million people die each year, and that about a 10th of those deaths involve medical or legal circumstances that require an autopsy. The Central Intelligence Agency estimates the annual number of worldwide deaths at a little more than 56 million. Either way, as Chandran said:

That’s a huge number, so we’re of the view that this is a major line of services that is shaping up around the world.

The rate of conventional autopsies, which peaked in the 1950s at more than 60 percent for deaths in the United States and Europe, has fallen to fewer than 20 percent in Great Britain, Reuters said. In the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage fell from 19.3 in 1972 to 8.5 in 2007.

People simply don’t like having the remains of loved ones cut open, Chandran said. “Unfortunately, because the process of the postmortem is seen as gruesome, one tends to ignore that.”

In that distaste, Chandran sees a business opportunity. In cases where a coroner requires an autopsy, he said, his centers will offer the next of kin an option. Relatives can allow the state to conduct (and pay for) a conventional autopsy, or they can pay Chandran’s facility 500 pounds (about $785) for a digital autopsy, with the results provided to the state.

Digital autopsies have other advantages besides being noninvasive, Chandran said. Digital evidence remains on file indefinitely, and, he said, experts can more easily see and identify fractures and such foreign objects as bullets. Peer-reviewed studies have come to mixed conclusions about the effectiveness of digital autopsies compared with conventional autopsies, as we’ve reported here and here.

Pramod Bagali, chief operations officer for iGene’s parent company, InfoValley, said the system is “a complementary method, not a complete replacement” for traditional autopsies and could handle 70 percent of routine cases. Chandran estimated that his UK operation would be profitable within three years.

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Employers are cutting costs by contracting directly with imaging centers for any scans their employees may need, bypassing health insurers. For details, see our Facebook page.

Related CME seminar (up to 20.25 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): Computed Body Tomography: The Cutting Edge (all new release)

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