The U.S. spends far more on health care than any other nation on earth—over $10,000 per person. For that kind of money, the U.S. should be a world leader in health outcomes. Unfortunately, the U.S. lags in many areas, and one area in particular—maternal health—is particularly disturbing. According to statistics, the United States is the most dangerous developed nation for women to give birth in.
According to an investigation by USA Today, women in the United States are still suffering far too many injuries and even fatalities because of simple mistakes that medical staff make. The numbers the newspaper collected are shocking: each year, about 700 women die in labor and another 50,000 suffer serious injuries. In other words, almost 2 women each day die in labor and another 137 suffer a serious injury. Not every death or injury is preventable, but experts estimate that at least a half could be avoided with adequate care.
These numbers are unique in the developed world. Whereas the death and injury rate for mothers continues to fall in countries such as Japan, France, and Germany, the rate has continued to climb in the United States. It now stands at 26.4 per 100,000 births—a staggeringly high number.
Simple Errors are the Cause
No nation has completely eliminated maternal deaths and injuries, nor could they. Not every childbirth is easy, and some tragedies will continue to occur. Nevertheless, experts are certain that the high maternal death and injury rate in the U.S. is the fault of medical mistakes and carelessness.
For example, doctors continue to:
- Fail to track how much blood a mother has lost during delivery
- Fail to properly give blood transfusions in time
- Fail to respond quickly when mothers present with high blood pressure
Had doctors properly monitored blood loss and hypertension—and reacted in an appropriate manner—then about half of all deaths could be avoided. According to the American Hospital Association, over 90% of bleeding deaths could have been prevented and 60% of deaths attributable to preeclampsia could have been prevented.
Instead, the stories coming out of America’s hospitals are shocking. USA Today told the story of Yolanda Mention, who went to one of South Carolina’s top hospitals but was sent home after childbirth with very high blood pressure. After she returned the next day with a headache and even higher blood pressure, the staff made her wait for an hour before seeing a doctor. She ultimately died of a stroke.
Ignoring the Fourth Trimester
Another problem contributing to injuries is lack of adequate follow-up and monitoring after the baby is delivered. Doctors call this critical period the “fourth trimester,” when they can identify complications from the pregnancy and treat them swiftly.
According to NBC News, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology issued new guidelines for postpartum care. They recommend that doctors should make personal visits with mothers so that they can assess the mental and physical health of the patients and address any concerns.
Among the problems that doctors can check are infections, embolism, and mental health disorders. These account for 26% of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S.
Adequate Oversight is Missing
The maternal injury and death rate is not rising everywhere in the United States. In particular, California has managed to cut its rate in half by implementing safety practices. Unfortunately, other states are unwilling to provide the necessary oversight, and the federal government has also failed to act.
Although the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services closely monitors how hospitals treat the elderly, they do not give equal attention to maternal health. In fact, the federal government does not even collect critical information on maternal deaths and injuries.
Fortunately, some states are responding. For example, New York has begun working to standardize diagnosis and treatment of the leading causes of maternal death. Individual hospitals have also taken steps to improve their treatment. In Illinois, for example, around 100 hospitals participated in a program to increase their responsiveness to maternal distress. As a result, maternal outcomes have improved.
The Frustrating Aftermath
Even when a mother does not die, she can feel a storm of emotions at the injuries she has suffered. These women expressed frustration and anger to USA Today, particularly for what they saw as the doctor’s unwillingness to take their complaints seriously. Unfortunately, patients should not be surprised. Rather than critically examine what they are doing wrong, hospitals frequently blame women for their complications.
Many of the women also complained that they still do not know what went wrong, which can make it difficult for the women to choose to get pregnant again. Fearful that another pregnancy could raise similar complications, these women might choose not to have more children.
This Is Not Okay
Regardless of the response of the medical community, pregnant women and their families should know that it is never acceptable for doctors to fail to diagnose problems and delay appropriate treatment during childbirth. Under Florida law, doctors must use the same skill and care as other doctors would in the same circumstances. When they do not, they have committed medical malpractice.
Whether you have fallen victim to malpractice is a difficult question, but one that we can help you find answers to. By meeting with an attorney, you can review your medical records and the events surrounding your delivery. If necessary, your attorney can consult with a medical expert who can review the actions your medical team took or failed to take.
How Is The United States Combatting Infant Mortality?
The Center for Disease Control is in charge of improving Americans’ health and controlling infectious diseases. They are committed to improving the outcomes of births. To do so they work with communities, health care providers, and partners. This approach is meant to address health risk factors, behavioral issues, and social challenges that contribute to the infant mortality rate in our country.
Improving Perinatal Care
The CDC dedicates financial resources to Perinatal Quality Collaboratives (PQCs). PQCs are networks that span multiple states that work to reduce the infant mortality rate and improve mothers’ survival rate. This money is used to improve prenatal care, help reduce premature births and improve the effectiveness of neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).
Programs Geared To Reduce Infant Mortality
There are a number of specific programs in the United States geared toward reducing the infant mortality rate and outcomes for mothers and babies. These programs include:
- The Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) – This program collects information from each state which references experiences and attitudes about pregnancy before, during, and after childbirth. Once this information is collected and analyzed it’s used to identify populations who are at higher risk for infant mortality. The information is used to provide more resources for these at-risk pregnancies and to measure improvement.
- The SUID & SDY Case Registry – A Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is one of the most heartbreaking moments families can experience. The CDC monitors the occurrences of these events to understand circumstances and trends to help devise methods to minimize them in the future.
- The CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities – The CDC studies pregnancies that have birth defects to help prevent them in the future, and improve the quality of life for those who are born with them.
- The Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology Program (MCHEP) – posts epidemiologists to regions, states, and tribes to collect research and offer information to improve health for pregnancies, policies, and health programs.
Ultimately it’s up to expectant parents to judge if they think something might be wrong and act on their gut instincts. For example, if a baby has moved dramatically less, it’s a good idea to go get checked out to ensure the health of your pregnancy.
Contact a Birth Injury Attorney with Questions
The vast majority of births are safe, with mother and child returning home in excellent health. However, if you or someone you care about suffered an injury, then you should consider whether you have a valid legal claim for medical malpractice.
At Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum Bluestein, LLP, our Miami birth injury attorneys have represented many families in lawsuits against hospitals, doctors, and other medical staff. We understand how stressful the aftermath of delivery can be, and we are committed to holding doctors accountable for their medical lapses. To learn more about whether you have a legal case, contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation or give us a call at 305-371-2692.