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March 2014 Archives

Physicians, Midwives Disagree On The Safety Of Water Birth

Water immersion labor and birth are growing in popularity. This type of birth is described as being more peaceful for the baby and less painful for the mother. These benefits are clear, but doctors and midwives disagree on the overall safety of this type of birth.Laboring in the water seems to be widely accepted as a safe procedure. The concern for a lot of obstetricians arises when it comes time to actually birth the child. Here, the major concerns include a risk that the child could drown or that the mother or child could be exposed to infection.Barbara Harper not only advocates for water birth but founded the group Waterbirth International. For her, she alluded to a fear of becoming unnecessary as a reason why the physician community is reluctant to give water birth the final stamp of approval.“One thing that happens in a water birth,” said Harper, “you as the attending physician pretty much have to stand there with your hands in your pockets and let it happen without your participation.”Harper did acknowledge the fact that there are some very real risks. Her solution was to exclude certain pregnancies deemed high risk, such as those involving a mom who has high blood pressure, diabetes or other health problems. She also suggests eliminating women who have previously had a C-section.Next, Harper admitted that the physician community’s fear of infection is very valid. “Infection control is critical,” she noted. Giving birth isn’t pretty; feces and blood could contaminate the water, and this could cause problems for both the mother and the child.What happens if a mother is sold on this type of birth as a safe birthing procedure but the result proves otherwise? Does it matter whether the parents listened to a midwife or consulted a physician? Which industry standard controls; the acceptance by midwives or the caution from licensed obstetricians? What if something does happen to the baby or the mother?A Harrisburg medical malpractice attorney can help parents sort out the details after a birth injury occurs. Determining whether an error occurred during birth or whether an entire birthing plan itself should never have been suggested in the first place is a responsibility that doesn’t have to land on the parent’s shoulders. 
Source: NPR, “Doctors Say Don’t Give Birth To Baby In A Tub, But Midwives Disagree,” Nancy Shute, March 23, 2014 

Wrongful Pregnancy Lawsuit Filed After Botched Tubal Ligation

The term birth injury often brings to mind an injury such as shoulder dystocia, cerebral palsy, hypoxia, brain injury, brachial plexus injury, neurological disorder or other harm caused around the time of the baby’s birth. What if the conception itself is the injury?In a recent case, a couple found out that they were pregnant when it shouldn’t have been possible. It was a surgical error that led to the conception that ultimately became the basis of a wrongful pregnancy lawsuit.The two parents in this case already had a young son that had been diagnosed with the hereditary disease known as sickle cell anemia. This disease results in health complications that often lower the lifespan of the individual.These two parents knew that the chances of having another child with sickle cell anemia were high, and so the wife underwent a sterilization procedure. Only a year later, the wife received the shocking news that she was pregnant. One of her fallopian tubes was still intact.The reason why this couple chose to have the wife undergo a mini-laparotomy and tubal ligation was to prevent having a second child born with sickle cell anemia, but that is exactly what happened.This couple filed a lawsuit in Illinois, seeking not only compensatory damages related to the specific incident, but extraordinary expenses as well. The expenses related to the botched procedure and resulting pregnancy includes, but is not limited to, costs of the procedure and delivery, pregnancy complications and pain and suffering.The extraordinary expenses would compensate the family for the increased costs of caring for a child with the condition until the age of majority. Under this jurisdiction and these circumstances, an appeals panel ruled on an interlocutory review that the family was allowed to proceed with a request for these extraordinary damages.Laws and precedent relating to damages for medical malpractice cases differ from one state to another. For families that have suffered a medical malpractice injury in Harrisburg, a discussion with an attorney can help them determine whether they may have a claim and what possible damages may be sought.Source: The Cook County Record, “Panel: parents in wrongful pregnancy suit may seek extraordinary expenses,” Kenneth Lowe, March 3, 2014

When Surgeon's Age Becomes A Risk Factor Is The Hospital Liable?

Age is one of the protected classes under state and federal employment laws. Discriminating against someone based on their age is a violation of his or her labor rights, but is there a point when age really does become a risk factor? For instance, when a surgeon's hands aren't as steady anymore, when a radiologists eyes aren't able to read an X-ray quite as clearly or a physician's memory fails them when they are writing a prescription for a patient that reported specific allergies. In the medical field, these failures could result in serious or even fatal mistakes, and it is the patient that will pay the price. A nurse recently wrote in to a columnist describing the tough position she found herself in. As an employee of the hospital, she wasn't quite sure how to handle the situation. She had seen a specific surgeon make mistakes that could be very harmful to a patient. She stressed her frustration in the letter both with the surgeon himself as well as with the hospital -- or as she called them the "powers that be." This nurse wrote that she had reported the physician's failures, noting her concerns about patient safety. Writing to the advice column was her last straw, her last cry for assistance. She ended the letter with "Please help me be the patient's advocate that I was trained to be!" The columnist responded with her opinion about how the nurse should handle the situation, giving advice about the chain of reporting and how to collect evidence to support and corroborate her claims. This blog post isn't about judging that specific advice. Instead, our Harrisburg medical malpractice law blog asks a different question. Who is liable when an aging surgeon does make a mistake? Would it be considered hospital negligence to ignore the concerns raised by a nurse, fellow surgeon or patient? Source: Medscape, "How Should I Report an 'Aging' Surgeon?" Carolyn Buppert, Feb. 24, 2014

Are Some Cancer Patients Undergoing Needless, Risky Treatments?

Researchers have come a long way in understanding and treating many different types of cancer. Despite the extensive development in knowledge, there is still a lot more to learn. A cancer diagnosis is something that people do not take lightly, neither are the treatment plans that often follow this diagnosis.These plans often involve very aggressive treatment measures, including chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery. Although these medical procedures help treat the cancer, there are risks and consequences associated with each. A recent study recently published online in JAMA Otolaryngology suggests that some cancers are being over diagnosed and thus, over treated.The study was co-authored by Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. His study focused on thyroid cancer, a diagnosis that has more than doubled since 1975, nearly even tripling in number.Thyroid cancer can involve tumor growths on the gland that releases hormones that help control the body’s metabolism. The gland is located in the neck, and most treatment plans involve surgically removing the entire gland. But is this course of action that not only involves the risks associated with surgery but also requires daily hormone pills for the rest of the patient’s life, necessary?Researchers say maybe not. Welch warned that a diagnosis that includes the word cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that treatment is necessary. “It’s a challenging rethinking,” he said of the assumption that aggressive treatment for every cancer is essential. There a some cancers, like ones affecting the thyroid, that are small and slow growing enough that they might not cause harm.Advancements in detection methods have become increasingly more effective, say some experts. This likely plays a role in the increase in the number of those being diagnosed. Dr. Brian Burkey said that part of the problem is that it isn’t easy to pinpoint which cancers will become aggressive.What is the acceptable practice in Pennsylvania? Can someone be put through unnecessary procedures as a part of an “over-diagnosis epidemic”? Those that believe that medical mistakes may have been made in the diagnosis of their illness can turn to a Harrisburg medical malpractice attorney to determine if they may have a claim.Source: Pioneer Press, “Thyroid cancer cases have soared,” Lindsey Tanner, Feb. 20, 2014

New Research Shows Quicker Surgery Could Prevent Brain Injury

In any personal injury case, there are basic elements that must be proved. Breach of a duty is one of these elements. An injured party must prove that the other’s actions fell below the standard of care. Where medical malpractice is concerned, it often takes some specialized knowledge to determine whether a doctor’s actions fell below this standard.Of course, there are a few cases in which a juror can make this determination without any medical training, like when a surgical tool is left in a patient’s body after procedure. What about less obvious cases? An expert will provide testimony on issues such as whether a doctor waited too long before performing a C-section during labor.But could a decision considered valid 10 years ago be considered negligent today?The answer to that question is yes. Medical knowledge and technology continues to develop, and what is accepted as meeting the standard of care might change along with the new research. For instance, new research shows that delaying heart surgery in some newborn cases could actually increase the risk that the child suffers a brain injury later.This recent study was conducted by colleagues at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania.Researchers looked specifically at cases involving children with hypoplastic left heart syndrome or transposition of the great arteries. Data showed that delaying surgery by four days after birth or later was associated with decreased cerebral oxygen saturation and cerebral blood flow. These symptoms can cause injury to the child’s brain.The report went into great detail as to the “who, what, where, when and why” behind the data and the research, but the chances that the readers of our Harrisburg medical malpractice will face this exact situation could be low.What readers should take from this research study and discussion is that there are cases in which medical malpractice may not be clear, but an experienced attorney can help parents determine whether there is a possible birth injury or medical malpractice claim.Source: Cardiology Today, “Delaying heart surgery in newborns may raise risk for brain injury,” March 3, 2014

5-Year-Old Sent Home With Wrong Medication, Nearly Escapes Harm

When patients pick up their medication from the pharmacy, the clerk will read through the instructions with the individuals or ask if they have any questions for the pharmacist. The patient is often warned by the clerk that it is very important that he or she follows the directions, and most Harrisburg residents would probably agree.Those directions on the bottle are very important, but what if they are the correct directions and the correct medication but are given to the wrong patient? It was this exact pharmacy error that one family said nearly cost their 5-year-old son his life.In this case, the family said that everything appeared to be correct on the bottle. Their son’s name was right there on the label, along with the name of the drug and the dosage information. The only problem was that the medication was meant for a different patient with the same name.Haloperidol was the name listed on the label, but they weren’t familiar with this medication name. It wasn’t an allergy medication. The parents thought that they were giving their child allergy medication. Instead, Haloperidol is an antipsychotic drug and the dosage listed on the label was a dangerous amount for a young child.When the boy took this medication, he became extremely tired. After two days of sleep, his parents noticed a flare-up on his neck. Paramedics arrived, but the problem cleared up. After they left, the parents noticed their child acting in an unusual manner. Then, he fell to the ground. When they called his doctor and explained the situation, he told them to seek emergency medical attention.In this case, it appears that the boy was lucky to escape permanent physical harm, but his parents said the entire experience caused some serious psychological trauma. They also said that they were thankful that they didn’t give him more of it, because the results may have been drastically different.Those that suffer the consequences of a medication error in Harrisburg, whether due to a negligent mistake made by a physician, hospital or pharmacy, may have a claim for damages.Source: CBS, “Family Says Pharmacy Error Nearly Killed Boy,” Chris Coffey, Feb. 26, 2014
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