Proper prenatal care is essential for ensuring a healthy pregnancy for both mother and child. Advancements in knowledge and technology have made pregnancy and delivery much safer over the past few decades, but unfortunately, healthcare professionals do still make mistakes, and these mistakes can have serious consequences for a mother and her baby.
Medical Malpractice in Philadelphia
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or other healthcare professional fails to follow the required standard of care when treating (or failing to treat) a patient, and the patient is injured as a result. The "standard of care" is generally defined as the level of care that a health care professional with a similar background would give under the same circumstances. To illustrate, a first-year resident physician would not be judged by the same standard which would be applied to an experienced attending physician with decades of practice. Additionally, the circumstances of treatment must be similar; a medical procedure performed in the Operating Room of an urban hospital would not be considered similar circumstances to care provided to an injured hiker deep in the backcountry.
It is possible that a medical professional could fail to follow the standard of care in a particular situation, and medical malpractice would not necessarily result. In order to qualify as medical malpractice, the action (or failure to act) must have caused harm to the patient. For example, if a physician failed to notice a tumor on a CT scan, but the growth was benign and never caused the patient any issue or discomfort, this may not rise to the level of medical malpractice. Conversely, if a physician were to fail to notice a malignant tumor on a CT and this resulted in a significant delay in a cancer diagnosis, this would be much more likely to rise to the level of medical malpractice.
Medical Malpractice Claims
If medical malpractice does occur, obtaining compensation for the victim(s) by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit can be a complex process. First off, there is a certain time period during which a claim may be filed. This is known as the Statute of Limitations. These laws exist to ensure that claims are brought in a timely manner so that the court still has access to all necessary evidence and witnesses in order to make an accurate ruling on the claim. In Pennsylvania, a medical malpractice victim has two years in which to file a claim. However, this two-year time period starts when a patient becomes aware (or should be aware) of the medical malpractice. There is special statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims when a foreign object has been left inside a body during surgery, which gives a patient more time to file a claim.
Additionally, most medical malpractice claims in Pennsylvania require a Certificate of Merit. A Certificate of Merit is a legal document which must be filed by the attorney representing the plaintiff before a medical malpractice case will be permitted to proceed. This Certificate involves written statements made by licensed professionals (similar to that of the party the plaintiff alleges at fault) that it is possible the care rendered in the claim failed to conform to the applicable standard of care.
Types of Prenatal Care Malpractice
During the course of a pregnancy, most women will encounter a variety of medical professionals and have a variety of medical procedures performed. Medical malpractice can occur during any of these encounters with healthcare professionals if the standard of care is not met and an injury results. Below, we examine three types of medical malpractice which can occur during the course of prenatal care. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the types of prenatal care medical malpractice, but should merely serve as an illustration.
Failure to Diagnose
There are many complications which can arise during pregnancy. Fortunately, with routine testing, screening, and supervision, many common complications can be managed easily and pose no danger to the mother or fetus. Some complications are rarer and do pose a more significant threat to the pregnancy. It is critical that all tests and screening be performed accurately, interpreted accurately, and that any complications are accurately diagnosed. A failure to diagnose a pregnancy-related complication can result in harm to either the fetus or the mother during the pregnancy and/or harm to either the baby or the mother during the delivery process.
Preeclampsia is one of the most common complications to arise during pregnancy. Preeclampsia involves a rise in blood pressure in a woman who otherwise exhibited normal blood pressure. In addition to a spike in blood pressure, symptoms of preeclampsia include kidney damage, severe headaches, changes in vision, upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, impaired liver function, edema, and shortness of breath.
Complications of preeclampsia can include low birth weight, preterm birth, placental abruption (separation of the placenta from the inner wall of the uterus), HELLP syndrome (destruction of red blood cells, elevated liver enzymes, low platelet count), organ damage, and future cardiovascular disease. Several of these complications can pose life-threatening risks to the mother and the fetus.
If a physician failed to perform regular blood pressure screenings, missed signs of preeclampsia, and injury to the mother or her child resulted, this could be an example of prenatal care malpractice due to a failure to diagnose.
Another form of prenatal medical malpractice is misdiagnosis. Misdiagnosis occurs when a provider does perform the necessary diagnostics (this can include imagining, tests, visual analysis, and more) but interprets results incorrectly, labeling one medical issue an incorrect one. Misdiagnosis of a pregnant woman can lead to serious negative outcomes. As stated earlier, there are common complications which can arise during pregnancy, along with rare, more serious complications. Many can be managed fairly simply, but a timely diagnosis is key.
Earlier we discussed the symptoms of preeclampsia. These include abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. If a woman were to contact her doctor complaining of these symptoms and was told that these are consistent with garden-variety morning sickness with no follow-up care, her preeclampsia could be misdiagnosed. If no further intervention were performed and she and/or her baby suffered an injury during the birth process, this may be the grounds for a medical malpractice claim.
Medication errors can be made by a variety of healthcare providers - from the physician ordering the medication, to a nurse dispensing it in a healthcare setting, or a pharmacist dispensing in a pharmacy. Medication errors can involve ordering or dispensing the correct medication in the wrong dosage (either too high or too low for the particular issue of the particular patient), or ordering or dispensing the incorrect medication.
Many pharmaceutical drugs and over-the-counter medications that may be safe for most of the population can not be taken during pregnancy because of potential risks specific to a developing fetus. If, for example, a pregnant woman was injured in a car accident and taken to an Emergency Room and the treating physician failed to ask or test for pregnancy and prescribed a medication that was unsafe for a fetus, this might constitute medical malpractice.
Providers Involved in Philadelphia Prenatal Medical Malpractice
The most common claims of medical malpractice related to prenatal care are made against the Obstetrician-Gynecologist (OB/GYN). An OB/GYN is a doctor that specializes in the care for women's reproductive health and pregnancy along with many other conditions that affect women. These doctors provide a wide range of treatments from preventative care to diagnostic testing and delivering babies. An OB/GYN is often the doctor a pregnant woman will most frequently interact with throughout the course of her pregnancy and is responsible for ordering specific tests and monitoring the health of the mother and the fetus.
However, a pregnant woman will deal with a variety of other providers. This can include physician's assistants, nurses, pharmacists, and medical assistants, as well as different type of physicians, including their primary care physician. In many rural areas in the United States, a family care doctor takes the place of an OB/GYN for providing prenatal care, as well as overseeing the delivery of the infant.
Philadelphia Prenatal Care Medical Malpractice Representation
Inadequate prenatal care can have a devastating impact on a pregnancy, and potentially life-long effects. However, it can be incredibly complicated to determine if the care given to a pregnant woman was appropriate and, if not, exactly who may have been responsible. Our team has decades of legal experience and the extensive resources necessary to thoroughly investigate cases involving prenatal care malpractice. Contact our team for a free consultation to discuss the specifics of your case.