Infants and children are misdiagnosed with astounding frequency, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. In fact, a recent study examining preventable pediatric medical errors found that diagnostic mistakes are the leading cause of injuries among pediatric malpractice victims. It also revealed that the types of injuries that patients suffer, and the exact ways that these injuries happen, vary among different age groups. As a parent or caregiver, the idea that your child’s healthcare provider may actually compromise their health is hard to imagine. Unfortunately, these mistakes can and do occur, with the potential to cause permanent damage. It is important to understand the factors that may contribute to your child being improperly diagnosed or left too long with an undiagnosed condition, and what you can do if you find yourself in this devastating situation.
Diagnostic Errors: The Leading Form of Pediatric Malpractice
Prior medical research has established that between 2% and 3% of hospitalized pediatric patients become victims of medical malpractice. According to one study, for every 100 children discharged from the hospital, 1.81 to 2.96 experienced some form of medical negligence. Among these children, those with existing reliance on medical technology and those with specific healthcare needs are at the greatest risk.
A recent study published by The Doctors Company, the nation’s largest medical malpractice insurer, further expanded current knowledge about pediatric medical errors, finding that diagnostic mistakes are responsible for the vast majority of injuries among children. The study investigated 1,215 claims from the time period between 2008 and 2017. The sample included 400 preventable pediatric medical errors involving doctors from a variety of medical specialities.
Children of all ages were included in the research, with ages of patients ranging from newborns up to the age of 17. They were separated into 4 groups: newborns; infants from 2 months to 11 months; children from age 1 to age 9; and adolescents ages 10 to 17. The study yielded some very important findings. Perhaps most significant: diagnostic errors were the leading form of pediatric malpractice among all age groups, aside from newborns. Diagnosis-related mistakes were the second-most common type of medical malpractice among the newborn group.
Top Injuries Caused by Pediatric Medical Mistakes
The type of injuries sustained as a result of pediatric medical errors varied among specific age categories, except for one critical form of injury that was pervasive. Across all age groups, brain injuries were the most common type of injury sustained, accounting for 48% of injuries among newborns, 36% of injuries for children in the first year of life, 15% of childhood injuries up to age 10, and 11% of injuries for adolescents 10 to 17.
Newborns and infants under age 1 suffered the most severe injuries. Due to the particular vulnerability of newborns and the complexity of the childbirth process, birth injuries are not only common, but they have the potential to cause the most harm. Newborns and infants in the first few months of life in the study experienced injuries before, during, and soon after birth including:
- Brachial plexus injuries
- Brain damage
- Lacerations caused by forceps
- Scalp injuries from vacuum-assisted deliveries; and
Those in the first year of life also had the highest rate of fatalities among all ages included in the study, with 30% of these children dying as a result of medical errors.
What can be Done to Prevent Pediatric Medical Errors
There were a variety of factors that contributed to the increased incidence of pediatric medical errors, many of which are preventable. For example, communication errors were at least partially responsible for injuries in between 15% and 22% of cases. System failures, including failure to communicate important test results to the treating physician, also occurred frequently. Among the physicians named in the medical malpractice lawsuits, obstetricians accounted for the highest number, with 24% of claims involving mistakes by an OB-GYN.
Researchers drew some significant conclusions from this research, making several key recommendations as a result of their findings. To prevent pediatric medical errors, they recommended developing systems to aid doctors in making important clinical decisions. Some examples of these supportive measures include: better documentation for all individuals involved in patient care, as well as a tracking systems for lab tests, vaccinations, radiology tests, and medications/prescriptions.
Better training for emergency situations was also emphasized. For example, practicing what to do in a situation where seconds or minutes can lead to permanent brain damage would better prepare medical professionals to deal with oxygen deprivation during birth. Another common situation involves shoulder dystocia, which occurs when the baby’s shoulder becomes stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone. Preparing to successfully perform maneuvers that relieve this dangerous situation would assist doctors when making in-the-moment decisions and taking action that could result in brachial plexus injury or Erb’s Palsy if gone wrong.
Impacted by Pediatric Diagnostic Errors in New Jersey?
If a medical mistake adversely affected your child, you can find out more about the legal avenues that may be available to you by calling our highly experienced NJ Pediatric Malpractice Attorneys at (866)-708-8617. We are here to answer your questions, as we have helped numerous children and their families in New Jersey who have been impacted by pediatric medical negligence. If you are wondering about a possible lawsuit, we will thoroughly review your case free of charge and discuss your potential for successfully obtaining compensation. Please feel free to request a free consultation by filling out our online form as well.