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Obstetrical Malpractice


Obstetrical malpractice can occur in many settings, from the office of the obstetrician to clinics, emergency rooms, operating rooms and delivery wards. Failure to perform the proper prenatal tests, monitor a pregnancy or properly conduct labor and delivery can result in serious injuries, such as cerebral palsy, Erb’s palsy, developmental delays, speech problems, blindness, or infections.

Medical errors in the labor and delivery department are among the most common sources of avoidable injury to a fetus or newborn. However, a recent study performed by a major metropolitan area hospital has reported that the best way to reduce the incidence of obstetrical malpractice in the obstetrical ward is to institute a comprehensive and ongoing patient safety program.

The report1 is the result of a six-year implementation of a comprehensive and ongoing patient safety program at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center. From 2003 to 2009, the program included such simple measures as electronic medical record charting, having a dedicated gynecologist attending on call so that obstetricians would not be pulled from the labor and delivery floor to consult on gynecology cases, standardized pitocin protocols, premixed and safety color-coded labeled magnesium sulfate and oxytocin solutions, electronic fetal heart monitor interpretation certification, obstetric emergency drills, and other protocols.

The results were stunning. As a result of this common-sense program, the 2009 total medical negligence payouts from obstetrical malpractice claims in this hospital was reduced by 99.1% compared to the average payments in the years 2003-2006. Indeed, for the years 2008 and 2009, there were no medical malpractice lawsuits commenced against the hospital involving an infant with brain damage. These efforts are commendable and will hopefully continue to improve medical care received by women and their babies.

Unfortunately many hospitals have failed to institute the type of straightforward patient safety plan described above. For example, magnesium sulfate is one of the most dangerous solutions used in the labor and delivery unit and it is frequently prescribed to prevent seizures in preeclampsia or to arrest preterm labor. However, without the use of premixed and color-coded magnesium sulfate containers and intravenous lines, there remains the risk of negligent dosage of this powerful medication, including misread physicians’ orders and pharmacy errors.

Such medical mistakes pose enormous risk to both mother and baby. For example, maternal respiratory arrest can occur after receiving overdoses of magnesium sulfate. Most obstetrical errors resulting in maternal and fetal injury were due to unfamiliarity with safe dosage ranges and signs of toxicity, inadequate patient monitoring, pump programming errors, and mix-ups between magnesium sulfate and oxytocin.

As the Weill Cornell report shows, these injuries can easily be avoided and the number of obstetrical malpractice lawsuits significantly reduced, if the proper precautions are taken.

ATTENTION: If you believe that you or your loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, you should seek legal advice of experienced medical malpractice attorneys to determine if you have a case. For a free consultation with the medical malpractice lawyers at Levy Konigsberg LLP please call our 24/7 toll-free hotline at (800) 315-3806 or submit an email inquiry.

1 Effect of a comprehensive obstetric patient safety program on compensation payments and sentinel events. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Feb. 2011, p. 97-105.



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