Obstetrics Medical Malpractice Suits Avoidable Through Training, Preparation and Communication

Malpractice insurance premiums for obstetricians are often higher than for any other medical profession. Perhaps it is because the average payment in an obstetrical medical malpractice suit is around $947,000, more than double the payment for other medical malpractice suits.

CRICO Strategies, a Massachusetts-based medical risk management company, released a study in June 2010 of 800 obstetrics-related malpractice cases between 2005 and 2009. The study focused on the top reasons for medical malpractice claims against obstetricians and identified the risks that lead to these suits.

The study found that the top claims in obstetric malpractice suits involved substandard medical judgment or judgment errors (77%), miscommunication (36%), technical error (26%), and inadequate documentation (26%). Other claims included administrative failures and inadequate supervision.

The study also found that 65% of obstetric medical malpractice cases entail “high severity” injuries, which include the death of the mother, the child or both. The three most common allegations within these cases dealt with delay in treatment of fetal distress, improper performance of vaginal delivery, and improper pregnancy management.

A routine delivery can turn into a life-and-death situation for both mother and child in a matter of seconds. In emergency situations the attending obstetrician and medical team must be aware of countless factors in order to make the correct decision and act accordingly. Unfortunately, healthcare providers sometimes lack all of the pertinent information or are too caught up in managing the constantly changing situation to recognize signs of fetal or maternal distress in time to remedy it.

Communication between team members during critical times of problematic and emergency deliveries is paramount. However, since labor complications are infrequent, many healthcare providers lack the necessary communication skills and structures to make decision-makers aware of all of the factors involved.

The CRICO study found that 43% of claims brought against smaller hospitals involve issues that relate to training and education. At other times, especially during second-stage labor, precise surgical maneuvers and specialized equipment may require extensive training and real-time experience. Medical teams may lack the familiarity and preparation to ensure that no harm is done to the mother or child.

In these cases, most of the time it is not one single incident that causes the problem, but a confluence of small mistakes and oversights that combine to create the crisis situation, according to the study. Often, these small mistakes and lapses in communication are not caught in time to remedy the situation. However, had the proper decisions been made and had communication and training channels been in place, most of these situations could have had a better chance for a favorable outcome.

The study emphasizes that accurate interpretation of data and symptoms, controlled and structured communication, and collective decision-making can make all the differences in most cases. Additionally, electronic fetal monitor (EFM) training and frequent, regular opportunities to apply this training are crucial in avoiding many mistakes that result in malpractice claims. The study also emphasizes the value of contingency plans in situations where time is of the essence. Finally, it encourages prenatal healthcare providers to be alert and communicate with their patients and other members of their team about potential risk factors during pregnancy.

If you or your baby have suffered injuries during birth, it is important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney to help identify the specific causes and help you navigate the complicated process of filing a personal injury claim against your healthcare provider.

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