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Obstetric Errors


Top reasons for malpractice lawsuits against obstetricians

In a recent survey of more than 800 obstetrical medical malpractice cases over five years, the data showed that parents are most likely to file malpractice claims against an obstetrician (OB) citing one or more of the following three allegations:

  • That there was a delay in treatment of fetal distress
  • That a vaginal delivery was performed improperly
  • That the pregnancy was improperly managed

The report also studied the causation of these errors. The findings in this category were particularly interesting, and seemed to illustrate the nature of the obstetrics field—busy, fast-paced, and involving a fairly large team of physicians and nurses. The following factors were cited as contributors to medical errors:

  • Errors in clinical judgment (cited in 77 percent of obstetric malpractice cases)
  • Miscommunication (36 percent)
  • Technical error (26 percent)
  • Administrative failures (23 percent)
  • Ineffective supervision (15 percent)

These data indicate disorganization, inability to react and adapt to emergencies, and too much room for error. Malpractice cases cost hospitals a lot of money, too—according to the study, the average malpractice settlement is approximately $947,000.

A better way

But while many obstetrics departments are struggling with efficiency and communication, one OB team seems to have gotten it right. At New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Hospital, OB implemented new safety policies that significantly reduced the frequency of medical errors, and reduced their malpractice payouts by over 99 percent.

These reforms are clearly a step in the right direction and could certainly be beneficial to other struggling programs. Regardless, doctors, administrators, and parents should still take cases of suspected malpractice seriously.

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