Birth Asphyxia Complications Often Caused by Medical Mistakes: Study

New research suggests that errors are the most common cause of infant birth asphyxiation and many of the cases of medical malpractice may be avoidable.

Birth asphyxia occurs when inadequate amounts of oxygen are taken in before, during or immediately following the birth. Babies who suffer from asphyxiation during birth may be left with neurological abnormalities in the brain, spinal cord or other nerves, cerebral palsy, brain damage or death.

In a study published online by the medical journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, researchers reviewed claims made to the Norwegian System of Compensation to Patients (NPS) between 1994 to 2008, examining hospital records, expert’s assessments and information concerning the appeal body and courts of law.

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The national cohort study found 315 claims for infant birth asphyxia, of which 161 resulted in an award of compensation. Survivors accounted for 107 children, with 54 of the cases involving death as a result of the asphyxiation. Researchers found 96 of the 107 surviving children experience some type of neurological abnormalities.

The most common reason for birth asphyxiation identified by the researchers was human error. Fifty percent of the cases were the result of substandard care and inadequate fetal monitoring, with 14 percent attributed to a lack of clinical knowledge or skill, and 11 percent simply involving non-compliance of clinical guidelines.

“Substandard care is common in birth asphyxia, and human error is the cause in most cases,” said Dr. Stine Andreasen at Nordland Hospital in Bodo, in Norway.

Researchers also found failure to receive a referral from senior medical staff and errors in drug administration were also factors, but less common; as were system errors, which included poor organization of the department or lack of guidelines.

Of the birth injury cases that received settlement awards, nearly 50 percent were found to be the fault of the obstetrician. Another 46 percent of the errors were accountable to midwives.

According to the researchers, many cases of malpractice resulting in birth asphyxia could be prevented with improved training and heightened care, which may lower the number of medical mistakes that occur at the hands of ill-trained doctors and medical personnel. The study authors also indicate that high-quality audits would be beneficial in reducing the number of claims for compensation.


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