What are the Common Causes of Pediatric Medical Mistakes?
February 17, 2021
According to Healthy Children, approximately 30 million children go to the emergency room for various illnesses, injuries, or other medical complaints annually. While emergency care is sometimes necessary, it can also be quite scary: Johns Hopkins estimates that 10% of all U.S. deaths are the result of medical errors and that 250,000 individuals die every year from preventable mistakes.
There are certain obstacles in place when it comes to treating children that are not typically present when treating adults. Babies and infants cannot communicate the physical sensations and pain levels they are experiencing. Even young children who speak can have difficulties clearly conveying what they are going through. As Healthy Children puts it, parents are the biggest support systems and lifelines for kids who are receiving emergency medical care. Not only do they know their children better than anyone else, but they can also be the best advocates for their children’s needs.
How Pediatric Medical Mistakes Happen
Researchers believe that medical mistakes happen even more frequently in emergency rooms because of how fast-paced and chaotic they can be. According to a study published in Contemporary Pediatrics, some of the most common causes of medical errors in pediatric emergency medicine and office practices are:
- Physician burnout. Data indicates that at least one in every three physicians is experiencing burnout at any given point in time. Physician burnout is directly related to higher rates of medical errors, lower patient satisfaction and lower care quality, as well as physician alcohol and drug abuse and addiction.
- Physician fatigue. Many medical providers experience fatigue due to overwhelming schedules and “marathon”, or multi-hour, back-to-back shifts. The more tired a physician is, the more likely he or she is to make a major medical mistake due to associated symptoms like deteriorating cognitive function, memory deficits, and impaired learning.
- Frequent distractions and/or interruptions. Due to the fast-paced atmosphere of emergency medicine departments and office practices, distractions happen all the time. For example, a doctor may be treating one patient when a more severe, emergency case comes in. Another example is when a staff member has to interrupt a visit in order to consult with the treating physician about medication or surgery for another patient.
- Poor communication with staff, consultants, and patients/families. Poor communication can be catastrophic. A pediatric patient may have multiple specialists that they are seeing. If the specialists do not communicate with one another, they may miss out on crucial information – and the patient and their family might, too. This can cause serious complications with medications, knowing what symptoms should prompt a return to the ER, understanding discharge instructions, and even more critical medical information.
- Failure to monitor a patient adequately. Patients should be closely and carefully monitored during a procedure as well throughout the day during their stay (the frequency also varies depending on the severity of the patient’s condition). Without properly monitoring a patient, physicians may miss signs that the patient’s health is deteriorating or that they are experiencing a new or different problem that the doctor must assess.
- The need to make rapid decisions in a busy environment. Making a quick decision is difficult no matter the circumstance, but it is particularly hard when a young patient’s health – and sometimes his or her life – depends on it. Making a fast decision is even more difficult when a physician is experiencing fatigue or burnout.
- Cognitive errors due to premature closure of a case. These types of errors occur when a physician makes a premature diagnosis on what a patient’s condition is. A premature diagnosis can also lead to a physician ignoring subsequent medical findings that indicate another issue is present.
The culprits behind pediatric medical mistakes can lead to an array of different issues for children. Some of the errors lead to minor complaints, while others cause long-term problems and in the most tragic of cases, fatal complications. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 28,000 babies are born with birth injuries each year and that approximately one-half of them are the result of preventable medical mistakes. Common birth injuries from medical negligence include facial paralysis, clavicle and collarbone fractures, brachial plexus injuries (the brachial plexus is a nerve that controls hand and arm movement), caput succedaneium, or localized swelling that typically stems from the improper use of a vacuum extraction during birth, and cephalohematoma, which is a condition marked by cranial bleeding.
When is a Mistake Medical Malpractice?
Birth injuries are by no means the only injuries that infants and young children sustain because of a medical provider’s failure to uphold a certain standard of care. Medical professionals cannot guarantee medical results, so even if something unexpected or unsuccessful happens it does not necessarily mean that any malpractice occurred. But when a child is injured as a direct result of a healthcare provider negligently performing or omitting something that is considered standard medical care, it is medical malpractice. If you believe your child was a victim of medical malpractice, someone at our firm can help. Contact a representative online now.
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