As a parent, you want to be prepared for the worst. Nevertheless, you trust that your child’s doctor will do everything they can to prevent and treat potential threats to your child’s health. Whether the best course of action is prevention, or the next steps must be towards a cure, failure by a pediatrician or another doctor to provide adequate medical care to your child can be devastating and quite possibly, lead to irreparable harm. Here are some key lessons gleaned from pediatric malpractice claims surveyed by physician malpractice insurers over the years.
In the sections that follow, we explore what actual pediatric malpractice claims have to teach us about common mistakes and failures of medical providers when it comes to treating childhood illnesses, injuries, and other medical conditions. Ultimately, we seek to answer the fundamental question: Is Pediatric Malpractice Preventable? And if so, how? If you would like to discuss a potential case involving pediatric medical negligence, contact our talented team of New Jersey pediatric malpractice attorneys today at 866-708-8617 or fill out our online form to request a free consultation.
Is Pediatric Malpractice Preventable?
The biggest lesson from pediatric malpractice actions in recent years is that prevention is possible. In fact, preventative measures and solutions in pediatric medical care can avoid catastrophic injuries and costly damages, specifically, over half a million in damages award payments on average. Some preventative solutions are common practice and simple vigilance, while others take conscientious, deliberate dedication to implementing systems, such as automatic reminders of upcoming vaccinations, tracking test results for sick patients, or keeping abreast of developments in technology and pediatric/medical continuing education.
Preventing System Failures in Pediatrics
System failures often lead to patient injury in a vast array of healthcare facilities with patients of all ages, including children and the young. For example, when ordered diagnostic tests get lost or undelivered to referred specialists, the likelihood of injury risk rises. Efficient telephone triage systems in which personnel follow strict protocols to handle parent phone calls lowers lost or undelivered information risk. Typically, a registered nurse in an office or hospital fields a parent phone call, writes up a summary, and passes it on to the pediatrician who reviews it and attaches it to the patient’s medical record. In efficient systems, patient records include the advice or care provided in the phone calls, problems, instructions or information given, the referred specialist, if any, time of call and whether the physician returned the phone call. All preventative information, if complete and thorough, can help avoid harm to patients and prevent future claims of medical negligence.
For infant care and childbirth procedures, physicians and their teams must have an emergency protocol, an early warning system to address when immediate bedside care or cesarean delivery is necessary, a chain of command to decide on treatment and maintenance strategies, as well as ensuring expertise in electronic fetal monitoring operation and interpretation. Conducting readiness drills with physicians, nurses and technicians reduces response time and increases readiness to deal with emergencies related to births.
Avoiding Documentation Errors in Childhood Medical Care
Documented after-hour calls, including patient’s condition, time of call, what was advised, and who followed up must be noted in medical records. Documenting communication in detail, including the reported problems, advice given, others contributing advice, referrals, and call back, with the time the call was received, should also be included. Whether in office or via telephone, healthcare providers must communicate to parents when they should call back, giving specific examples of symptoms to clarify when the child’s condition is worsening and when it is necessary to call the physician.
Pediatric providers should not dissuade a parent from having their child seen or further evaluated when potential signs of injury or illness are present. Most often earlier intervention makes the difference in patient outcomes, so monitoring, documenting, and communicating between patient/family and physician, as well between physicians and the healthcare team for complete assessment and care, is true prevention in action. The completeness of the medical record is integral to patient health at the time of treatment and years into the future, particularly for a child as he or she grows and develops. Unfortunately, signs of pediatric malpractice and birth injuries often do not appear until years after the negligence and associated injury occurs.
For children up to a year and a half, accurate and diligent documentation are also critical for quality care. Documenting medical records and alerting staff to recurring or worsening symptoms in a young patients helps the medical team to understand when a specialist may need to intervene, especially post-surgery, as infections are more likely but harder to detect. Patients with special needs and medical equipment needs are notably more susceptible to further complications. Thorough documentation informs the transition between caretakers, making it a seamless stream of care and reducing chances for overlooked, delayed or mistaken diagnosis.
Failure to Uphold Pediatric Standards and Education
How else can doctors prevent medical malpractice when treating children and infants? By keeping current on practice guidelines and recommendations, as well as adapting to new practices, which requires an ongoing commitment to continuing education. Moreover, pediatricians who familiarize themselves with pediatric standard-bearers and educators, like the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), may avoid costly errors based on ignorance. Pediatricians who are up to date on the latest developments and technologies in the field are less likely to miss easily treatable conditions, such as infant jaundice. When the technology and protocol exists to prevent patient illness and potential harm, pediatricians who fail to use the available technology and follow protocols are more likely to make serious mistakes.
Common Communication Errors when Treating Children
Mindful communication is extremely important when it comes to pediatric malpractice prevention. Parents should be clearly informed of diagnosis, treatment plan, possible outcomes and expectations to avoid error. Inadequate communication and follow-up often lead to easily avoided mishaps and life-changing damages. Poor communication between patients/families and healthcare providers resulted in inaccurate diagnosis, failure to follow discharge instructions and insufficient guidance to parents of sick children with immediate care needs in 15 to 22% of the allegations in claims. Complete and timely communication is especially necessary after pediatric surgery, when parental concerns should be quickly addressed to avoid death or injury.
Certainly, communicating with family and the patient, if possible, is important to recognize symptoms that warrant an office or hospital visit as is training staff to decipher from parent calls the need for prompt response. Taking time with patients and families to tease out the history and symptoms progression, in office or via telephone, as well as detailed notes on clinical exams, instructions for care, diagnostic tests and referrals, afford opportunities to be proactive rather than reactive. Equally important is making sure the patient and family understand instructions, follow-up care and treatment plan in the language they understand as they are an integral partner in the health team’s success. Assessing the intentions of the family to follow through with care prescribed by the physician also ensures effective communication leading to better treatment outcomes.
Questions about Preventable Pediatric Medical Errors? Contact NJ Attorneys Serving Your Needs
Malpractice claims are not an inevitable part of pediatric practice, but preventable harm often results from failure to provide appropriate medical care to children and infants. Knowing the common pitfalls in pediatric care can assist parents and caregivers in asking the right questions and knowing when a healthcare provider’s mistake may be grounds for a lawsuit. For additional information and a free case evaluation regarding pediatrician negligence or childhood injuries resulting from malpractice by a medical professional in New Jersey, contact us now at 866-708-8617. Our esteemed attorneys are available anytime to provide you with personalized guidance and immediate assistance.