We all turn to doctors and other healthcare providers to treat injuries and illnesses; however, sometimes a doctor actually causes harm. In fact, medical errors occur far more often than most people realize. Obstetrical errors, in particular, impact a surprisingly large number of woman and newborns each year. Given the often-tragic results of obstetrical errors, it should come as no surprise that those errors ultimately account for a substantial proportion of the largest malpractice liability awards.
Consider the following facts and figures relating to obstetrical errors:
• More than 157,000 potentially avoidable injuries to mothers and newborns occurred during childbirth in just a single year, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
• Cesareans now make up almost one-third of all births, a sharp spike from two decades ago, when the rate was around 20 percent.
• A study published in Health Affairs found that rates vary dramatically among hospitals, from 7 percent to 70 percent and 2.4 percent to 36 percent among a lower-risk subgroup.
• Unexpected medical complications in deliveries were two to five times more likely in low-performing hospitals than in high-performing hospitals.
The good news is that when a focused effort is made to improve care and avoid medical errors the results can be dramatic. Consider the following examples as cited in a recent article in The Hill:
• Hospital Corporation of America reduced maternal fatalities from pulmonary embolism by 87 percent.
• New York Presbyterian Hospital registered brain injuries from oxygen deprivation to newborns at a rate 98 percent below the national average.
• Ascension Health, the nation’s largest Catholic hospital network, reduced incidence of brain trauma at four pilot sites by 85 percent.
• Premier Inc. health network reduced birth trauma among full-term newborns by 74 percent.
Efforts aimed at reducing the number of obstetrical errors are certainly commendable; however, for the victim of a medical error, a single error can be life-altering. Until medical errors are eliminated completely, victims and their families will continue to suffer physically, emotionally, and financially. Making matters worse, many states have enacted damage “caps” that limit the amount of compensation a victim can be awarded in a medical malpractice lawsuit, regardless of the extent of the harm suffered.
As any victim will tell you, more effort should be spent on preventing medical errors and improving patient care and less effort wasted on stripping victims of their rights.