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Obstetric medical errors can be reduced with systemic protocol changes

A recent study indicates that pregnancy and childbirth-related med mal claims could fall if doctors and facilities commit to safety protocols that reduce errors.

Industry group Patient Safety America reveals that between 200,000 and 400,000 patients die each year from “preventable harm” in hospitals. Furthermore, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that there are 157,000 potentially avoidable injuries just to mothers and newborns annually.

A recent study, released in March 2015 by watchdog group Public Citizen, has found that instituting mistake-prevention programs, particularly in the areas of obstetrics and gynecology (focusing on providing prenatal care to the mother and developing child, the childbirth process and post-labor aftercare), can have a significant, measurable impact on the likelihood that new mothers and babies will be injured or killed by an otherwise preventable medical error.

Recommendations from the potentially groundbreaking Public Citizen report

Reducing medical mistakes not only results in an increased overall patient safety rate, it also dramatically decreases the number of related medical malpractice claims filed against individual physicians and the facilities that employ them. Unfortunately, the authors of the study concluded that such sweeping safety reforms are relatively rare across the country, and that many facilities have been slow to implement universal changes proven to reduce the number of preventable medical errors that can easily harm or kill birthing mothers or their babies.

The report recommends three process changes that, when implemented, can have a significant impact on the number of medical mistakes suffered by “perinatal” patients.

The first of these seems straightforward enough: conducting comprehensive communications trainings for those involved in the labor and delivery process, including encouraging all staff members to speak up when they perceive situations that are unexpected or could be potentially harmful. The Public Citizen report notes that the Joint Commission (a nationally recognized safety authorization responsible for accrediting medical institutions) admits that communication failures are at the heart of 65 percent of all “catastrophic events” in childbirth.

The second Public Citizen recommendation is also relatively easy to implement, but universal adherence hasn’t been noted among medical facilities nationwide: introducing training programs aimed at educating staff members about the importance of “bundle” behaviors, a group of essential tasks that must be practiced during particular high-risk obstetric scenarios, such as when a physician chooses to induce birth instead of allowing natural labor to progress. By simply having protocols in place for such scenarios, staff will be forewarned about the types of issues that may arise, thus staving off potential errors.

Finally, Public Citizen recommends that medical facilities reduce the numbers of unnecessary Caesarean deliveries performed. “C-section” deliveries come with an inherently higher risk than vaginal deliveries, so by reserving those for truly necessary situations wherein the health of the mother or child deems it so (instead of scheduling them for convenience or billing purposes, as is commonly done in countless facilities across the country), mothers and children will subjected to a much lower risk of childbirth-related complications.

Finding help when you need it

Until such a time when medical providers consistently and uniformly adopt such strategies aimed at preventing mistakes that could hurt or kill patients – be it in the Obstetrics/Gynecology specialty or otherwise – errors will continue. Medical negligence is currently a leading cause of preventable death in our country; if you or a loved one has been harmed by the malpractice of a medical provider in Ohio, you have legal rights. Contact the firm of Smith, Meier & Webb, LPA, for more information.

Keywords: medical malpractice, medical negligence, med mal, medical errors, surgical errors, obstetric errors