Obstetrical malpractice risk could be cut by new safety measures

Donald Saiontz

By Donald Saiontz
Posted February 18, 2008


Researchers at Yale School of Medicine recently reported on the impact special safety procedures can have on the risk of obstetrical errors. Medical mistakes during the course of childbirth could result in devastating and potentially fatal injuries for a mother or newborn child.  The simple safety enhancements implemented at Yale-New Haven Hospital could greatly reduce the risk of obstetrical malpractice at other hospitals throughout the United States.

>>INFORMATION: Obstetrical malpractice lawsuits

Every year, a significant number of Americans die in hospitals as a result of medical malpractice. It is estimated that at least half of these hospital errors may be due to a simple breakdown in communication between doctors, nurses and other hospital staff. While other specialty areas have been working to prevent these types of life-threatening mistakes, the field of obstetrics has seemed to lag behind.

Obstetrical malpractice refers to medical mistakes made during the care and treatment of women in childbirth and during the period before and after delivery. Obstetrical mistakes could result in injuries for the mother, or could also result in life-long disabilities for the child, such as cerebral palsy or erbs palsy.

>>INFORMATION: Cerebral Palsy obstetrical mistakes

In 2004, the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University, designed and implemented new safety standards for care of patients at Yale-New Haven Hospital. The new procedures were designed to reduce the risk of obstetrical malpractice. Researchers who followed the outcomes of patients for over two and a half years, reported that the rate of obstetrical errors decreased at the hospital by about 60% with the new procedures in place.

The measures implemented had six key components:

  1. Independent review of the service
  2. Creation of a full-time patient safety nurse
  3. Standardizing common procedures, such as oxytocin administration
  4. Mandatory crew resource management training to improve communication among staff
  5. Adoption of standard terminology in interpreting fetal heart monitoring
  6. Multidisciplinary oversight by a patient safety committee

Researchers indicated that the most critical component was the addition of a full-time patient safety nurse, charged with reviewing cases and acting as a central contact for staff members. They also put in place certain practices standard in the aviation industry, such a the 2-challenge rule. The rule requires staff to question any situation that they believe may jeopardize a patient’s safety and to do it a second time if the circumstances do not change.

The results of this research, which were presented earlier this month at the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine Annual Meeting in Dallas, Texas, suggest that consistent efforts to improve communication and reduce errors could have a tremendous positive impact on reducing the risk of obstetrical malpractice. These steps could help hospitals avoid the types of medical mistakes which result in death and devastating injuries for woman and children during childbirth.


The medical malpractice lawyers at Saiontz & Kirk, P.A. review potential obstetrical malpractice lawsuits throughout the United States. There are no fees or expenses unless a recovery is obtained. To review the circumstances surrounding childbirth which may have resulted in an injury, request a free obstetrical malpractice claim evaluation.

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