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Can You Sue an OB-GYN for Medical Malpractice?

Female patients often have regular visits with their OB/GYN for gynecological and obstetrical medical care. This can involve routine visits, pregnancy-related treatment, childbirth, and medical emergencies. The female reproductive system involves a number of different organs and processes. Proper OB-GYN care can make sure the female patients are healthy throughout their life. 

However, when an OB-GYN makes a serious error, it can cause serious injury to the patient or a baby. An OB/GYN medical mistake can cause permanent injury, reproductive system damage, miscarriage, birth injuries, and could even be fatal for the mother and baby. It is important for victims of birth injury errors to come forward to help others avoid unnecessary harm. If you believe you were a victim of OB-GYN malpractice, contact an experienced medical malpractice law firm to get damages for your injuries. 

What Is an OB-GYN?

An OB-GYN is a doctor that specializes in two areas of medicine: obstetrics and gynecology. Obstetrics involves pregnancy, childbirth, and care after delivery. Gynecology generally covers the health and conditions involving the female reproductive system, including the vagina, cervix, uterus, ovaries, and breasts. However, some OB/GYNs can subspecialize in areas of gynecology or obstetrics. 

Female patients of any age may see an OB-GYN for any medical care related to their reproductive system. Most pregnant patients will end up under the care of an OB-GYN from their first medical care after they discover they are pregnant and continuing until after the delivery or birth of the child. There may be other doctors involved in a patient’s care and treatment for pregnancy and reproductive health, including anesthesiologists, geneticists, and oncologists.

Most Common OB-GYN Care and Procedures

OB/GYNs can see patients for routine care, serious medical conditions, or for care during and after pregnancy and childbirth. Most female patients begin seeing an OB/GYN as teenagers. “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends teens start seeing an ob-gyn between the ages of 13 and 15,” which may not involve a pelvic exam. After that, patients may have continuing annual exams, or require treatment for specific conditions or questions. 

Gynecological Care

After an initial visit, many female patients end up seeing their gynecologist for an annual exam, and then for any individual questions or concerns. Common reasons for a visit to the gynecologist include: 

  • Pap smears (to check for surgical cancer)
  • Birth control
  • Pregnancy and family planning
  • Infertility
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Infections (including urinary tract infections UTIs)
  • Painful or abnormal periods
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) treatment
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine

Obstetrical Care 

Pregnancy generally lasts for about 40 weeks. However, a pregnancy can be longer or shorter, but too short or too long of a pregnancy can be associated with birth complications. The pregnancy period is generally divided up into trimesters, as follows: 

  • First Trimester (0 to 13 weeks)
  • Second Trimester (14 to 26 weeks)
  • Third Trimester (27 to 40 weeks)

Over the 40 weeks, a pregnant patient will likely have regular visits with their obstetrician or OB-GYN. The first obstetric visit may be around 6 to 8 weeks of pregnancy. 

First Trimester Care

The first trimester can be the most crucial time for the baby’s development. The baby’s organs and body structure begin to develop. The pregnant patient also undergoes major body changes, and can experience morning sickness, fatigue, frequent urination, and breast tenderness. 

During the first trimester, a pregnant patient generally sees their doctor a few times for the first ultrasound, prenatal labs, and may get genetic testing for Down Syndrome. Most birth defects (and miscarriages) occur during the first trimester. 

Second Trimester Care

Every patient is different but many of the negative effects of the first trimester ease up for many pregnant mothers. During this time, the pregnant mother may begin to experience the baby’s first movements. Towards the end of the second trimester, negative effects may include back pain, abdominal pain, cramps, heartburn, and constipation. 

In addition to regular visits about every 4 weeks, the OB/GYN may perform optional screening for Spina Bifida and an ultrasound screening for fetal malformations. 

Third Trimester Care

The final trimester can be a time of excitement and anxiety as the due date approaches. The baby coming to full-term size and weight can cause stress on the mother’s body with shortness of breath, incontinence, sleeping problems, and other issues. The baby could come early, but preterm babies born before 37 weeks are more likely to have birth problems and may be admitted to a neonatal care unit. 

OB/GYN visits may be about every week or two during the final trimester. There may also be additional screenings for diabetes and anemia. The doctor may also offer a Tdap vaccine and Group B Strep test. In the last few weeks, the doctor may also perform a cervical exam. 

Types of OB-GYN Malpractice Cases

Medical malpractice involves a doctor who deviates from standards of care, which causes an injury and harm to the patient. Not all birth complications are caused by malpractice. Malpractice requires doctors to breach their duty of care by acting in a different way compared to other reasonable doctors in a similar situation. If that deviation causes an injury, the doctor may be held liable for any damages. 

Medical malpractice cases involving an OB/GYN can involve any type of care, from routine gynecological exams, to negligent birth planning counseling, to errors during pregnancy. Some types of OB-GYN malpractice cases include: 

OB-GYN Birth Injury Cases

Birth injuries can be among the most traumatic types of medical malpractice claims. When a newborn has a birth injury, the child will have to live with the consequences of the doctor’s negligence for the rest of their life. The family will also have to care for the child for the child’s life and may even have to plan for care after the parents are no longer able to care for their child. Some of the most serious types of birth injuries include: 

One of the biggest threats to a child during delivery is any oxygen deprivation, including hypoxia or anoxia. The brain begins to suffer damage within minutes of having the oxygen cut off. Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation. Permanent injury caused by HIE can include cerebral palsy, epilepsy, developmental delays, cognitive impairment, language impairment, coordination problems, and motor impairment. 

OB-GYN Pregnancy Injuries

Not all OB-GYN injuries involve the fetus or child. The pregnant mother can also suffer serious injuries from improper care. Pregnancy puts a lot of mental and physical stress on the mother. If the mother is not properly cared for during the pregnancy, it can affect the baby’s health as well as the mother’s. For an OB/GYN, this means proper education, counseling, and monitoring during the pregnancy. 

During childbirth, the pregnant mother should be treated with care to ensure she is in the best position to stay healthy during and after delivery. Even after delivery, the mother requires care to deal with any bleeding problems, risks of infection, and ensuring the mother has access to physical and mental care in their role as a new mother. 

One of the risks a mother may face after delivery is excessive bleeding. If bleeding is not controlled, the mother may go into hemorrhagic shock. Hemorrhagic shock is a type of hypovolemic shock caused by the loss of blood volume. Without enough blood to transport oxygen to the brain and other vital organs, organs can begin to shut down, causing organ damage. Eventually, uncontrolled bleeding can lead to death. 

OB-GYN Infection Injuries

Infections in the reproductive system can cause permanent injuries if they are not properly evaluated, diagnosed, and treated. This includes infections that occur during pregnancy or delivery. Infections can be caused by exposure to bacteria, viruses, or fungus. When a patient goes to their doctor with complaints of pain, painful urination, or unusual discharge, it may signal a possible infection. Left untreated, infections can cause tissue damage, infertility, pain, and even death.

A birth infection can be passed to the fetus through exposure to bacteria or viruses from the mother or after delivery in the hospital environment. Neonatal infections must be properly treated or monitored, otherwise, they can cause injury to the newborn. Some types of birth infections include: 

  • Group B streptococcus
  • Zika virus
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • E. coli
  • Listeria
  • Tuberculosis
  • Chlamydia

OB-GYN Birth Control and Family Planning Injuries

Family planning practitioners may help patients and couples make decisions about pregnancy, conception, and birth options. This may include counseling patients on the risks of certain diseases and birth complications, including higher-risk pregnancy patients with a family history of a disease, older women, and women with other health conditions. Family planning services may also include contraceptive counseling and genetic counseling to help patients make informed decisions about what is best for them. 

Malpractice in family planning can involve giving a patient inaccurate advice, misinterpreting diagnostic tests, prescribing dangerous medications, or using improper fertility treatments. If you were injured because of negligent medical care in family planning or birth control, talk to an experienced attorney about your options to recover damages. 

OB-GYN Education and Training

Licensed OB-GYNs in the United States are full medical doctors. After completing undergraduate education and taking the medical school exam, prospective OB-GYNs have to complete medical school with a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree. 

According to the American College of Surgeons, “resident education in obstetrics-gynecology must include four years of accredited, clinically-oriented graduate medical education, which must be focused on reproductive health care and ambulatory primary healthcare for women, including health maintenance, disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment, consultation, and referral.” In the 4th year of residency, qualified OB-GYN residents can take the qualifying exam and sit for the oral certification exam. 

If the prospective OB-GYN passes the certification, they can be certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG). In total, OB-GYNs generally complete about 11 to 14 years of education and practical experience before they can be board-certified OB-GYNs. However, some OB-GYNs can then pursue certification in subspecialties. 

According to the ACOG, boarded and non-boarded subspecialties of OB-GYN include: 

  • Gynecologic Oncology (management and treatment of cancers of the reproductive system)
  • Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery (treatment of disorders of the genitourinary system)
  • Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (hormonal and infertility treatment)
  • Maternal-Fetal Medicine (treatment of obstetrical cases)
  • Critical Care Medicine (diagnosis, treatment, and support of critically ill and injured patients)
  • Complex Family Planning (abortion and contraception care)
  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine (prevent and relieve the suffering)
  • Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology (treatment of pediatric and adolescent populations)
  • Menopausal and Geriatric Gynecology (treatment of menopausal and geriatric populations)
  • Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery (endoscopic surgery, operative laparoscopy, operative hysteroscopy, and robotics)

OB-GYNs provide care and treatment in different areas of practice but there may also be other types of medical workers involved in patient care. During treatment, a patient may be treated or assisted by other doctors, nurses, medical assistants, physician’s assistants, medical techs, therapists, diagnostic technicians, doulas, midwives, and others. In some cases, the patient may not even be sure of the qualifications or duties of someone providing care in a clinic or hospital. If you have questions about your care, talk to your doctor.

Contact an Attorney After an OB-GYN Accident

OB-GYN accidents can be traumatizing. It can mean losing a child, suffering permanent scarring or disfigurement, or infertility. Some patients blame themselves for the injury, even if it was caused by medical negligence. However, it is important to come forward after an OB-GYN accident. 

Contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney for advice about what you can do to recover compensation, medical bills, and loss of income. Your actions may also help other women avoid similar injuries or losses, ensuring better care for all women in the future. Call experienced medical malpractice attorneys who can look at your case, answer your questions, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim against a gynecologist or obstetrician. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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