Maternal Death & Medical Malpractice: An Under-Recognized Problem
When it comes to birth injuries and medical malpractice, most people tend to think of preventable injuries and disabilities suffered by newborns, including issues like infant brain damage and cerebral palsy, or even tragic cases involving the loss of a child’s life. While babies are certainly at risk of suffering serious and even fatal injuries during birth, especially when attending medical professionals are negligent, mothers also face various risks that put their lives on the line.
During a time when modern medical science has helped Americans live healthier and longer lives, and reduced many risks associated with childbirth that were once quite common, the safety of mothers during pregnancy and childbirth is often taken for granted. However, as recent media investigations and statistics show, those risks don’t just exist – they’re actually increasing nationwide, and are prompting a greater focus on this very under-recognized problem.
An article recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and NPR’s special series Lost Mothers put the alarming statistics on maternal death into perspective:
- Mothers in the U.S. are more likely to die from pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes than mothers in any other developed country.
- The U.S. is the only country in the developed world where rates of maternal death are on the rise.
- For every U.S. woman who dies from childbirth, roughly 70 other women nearly die. That’s equivalent to over 50,000 mothers each year, according to the CDC, though other studies estimate the number may actually exceed 80,000.
- As maternal deaths increased from 2000 to 2014, the CDC estimates that as much as 60% of those deaths are preventable.
Childbirth- and Pregnancy-Related Death
Maternal death during childbirth can involve any number of factors which lead to the death of a mother during labor or delivery, including medical negligence. According to the CDC, a pregnancy-related death has a more expansive definition, and can include the death of a woman (1) during pregnancy, or (2) within one year of the end of pregnancy due to:
- A pregnancy-related complication;
- A chain of events triggered by pregnancy; or
- A pregnancy’s aggravation of an unrelated medical condition.
Maternal Mortality: Underlying Causes & Prevention
Although there are unique and specific facts associated with every case of maternal death, explorations into what’s behind rising maternal mortality rates in the U.S. have noted a few of the most common potentially preventable causes. These include:
- Postpartum hemorrhage
- Severe hypertension
- Venous thromboembolism (a blood clot which starts in the vein)
These and other pregnancy and childbirth risks demand the attention of medical professionals who uphold their duty of care when treating mothers, and provide the skilled and competent treatment they need. Unfortunately, rising maternal death rates indicate doctors, nurses, and hospitals are falling short in their obligation to provide the level of care needed to reverse the trend. As experts note, hospitals should be focusing on a few important measures:
- Expanding focus on mothers – While a focus on the safety of infants is important, it should not come at the expense of mothers’ health. According to NPR’s investigations, even hospitals with specialized neonatal intensive care units can be woefully unprepared for emergencies involving mothers. Additionally, only 6% of state and federal funding for maternal and child heath contribute to the health of mothers, and lax regulations allow some doctors in the growing specialty of maternal-fetal medicine to complete training without hands-on practice. These findings indicate maternal death isn’t just an under-recognized problem among laymen and everyday Americans, but also the health care industry and our government. Expanding a focus on mothers will be critical to improving outcomes.
- Best practices – The Alliance for Innovation of Maternal Health (AIM) is an organization leading the effort to improve safety in maternity care. AIM recommends that hospitals which treat pregnant mothers and oversee childbirth implement specific best practices that focus on protocols for preparedness, recognition and response, and reporting. Many existing hospital protocols fail to streamline procedures for dealing with possibly fatal complications, which can turn treatable issues into tragedies.
- Collaborative care – Hospitals should focus on promoting collaboration and communication among multi-disciplinary specialists to ensure an understanding of each maternal patient’s risks and ways to effectively treat them. Additionally, hospitals should employ the Maternal Health Compact, which can formalize relationships between hospitals with limited resources and larger and better equipped facilities, allow for better management of emergencies, and streamline procedures for transferring mothers to hospitals which offer higher-level care. This type of collaborative approach can reduce the potential for communication errors that lead to preventable harm, and provide a stronger system of support when emergencies do arise.
- Simulated emergency training – In addition to following best practices for preparedness, experts recommend that hospital staff participate in simulated emergencies which may arise in the labor and deliver unit. Such training is as important for common complications as it is for low-probability but high-risk and potentially fatal events.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuits & Maternal Injury / Death
Creating a culture that prioritizes safety will be crucial to improving maternal death rates. Unfortunately, mothers can still face risks during pregnancy and childbirth when health care providers and hospitals fail to implement and abide by needed safety protocol, or otherwise fail to meet their duty of care when treating pregnant mothers and facilitating birth. This substandard care can take many forms, including:
- Failures to diagnose and misdiagnosis of serious complications, including diabetes or preeclampsia
- Mismanagement of complications during pregnancy, labor, or delivery
- Failures to monitor maternal health or respond appropriately to maternal emergencies
- Failures to properly treat infections in mothers
- C-section errors, including failures to perform a C-section or delayed C-sections
- Failures to properly handle high-risk pregnancies, including risk factors such as advanced maternal age, large fetuses, and twins or multiple babies
- Surgical errors or negligent post-operative care leading to hemorrhage or infection
- Medication errors during pregnancy, birth, or post-delivery
- Medical mistakes committed by nurses, OB/GYNs, and other health care providers
When negligence and substandard care lead to preventable harm, injured mothers, as well as families who have lost a loved one due to avoidable maternal death, have the right to seek justice and compensation for their losses by pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Because medical malpractice claims are notoriously complex and high stakes matters that require specialized knowledge of medical concepts, standards, and civil laws, effectively navigating a malpractice and birth injury case demands the attention of a proven lawyer.
The Lancione Law Firm is a nationally recognized birth injury and medical malpractice firm that has cultivated a reputation for our ability to successfully resolve even the most challenging cases. Over three generations and 80 years, our award-winning team has secured numerous multi-million verdicts and settlements for clients across Ohio and the country. Learn more about our services, your potential case and rights, and how we can help by calling (440) 220-4439 for a FREE consultation.