Hospitals are held to strict standards by federal and state laws, accrediting organizations and professional associations so that they provide appropriate and safe care to patients ─ including mothers and their babies. When hospitals fail to act reasonably or operate with a disregard for these regulations and standards, their patients can suffer significant injury or death. When that happens, those hospitals ─ and not just individual physicians or nurses ─ should be held accountable for medical malpractice.
In an article titled Institutional Liability for Birth Injuries, Revisited published in July 2018 by the American Association for Justice’s Birth Trauma Litigation Group (BTLG), medical malpractice is described as an “epidemic in the U.S.”
“Current research demonstrates that 440,000 people die every year in hospitals as a result of preventable mistakes,” the article states. “It takes about one month for preventable errors in U.S. hospitals to kill more people than died in combat during the Vietnam conflict. It takes one and half months to seriously injure as many total American soldiers that have died in combat in the history of our country.”
The medical malpractice epidemic is rooted in not only doctor and nursing negligence, but from system failures at hospitals that result in devastating and preventable harm to patients.
Mistakes don’t just happen because of individual actions
In order to reduce medical errors, every part of a hospital must meet established standards and regulations ─ from its staff, nurses, doctors and administration, to the policies, procedures, equipment and building itself. These are all components of the hospital that must work together as a system, and when the system fails at any level, it leads to serious injury or death of patients.
As the BTLG article states, “In order to effectively ensure safe care, physicians, nurses, and administrators must be intimately familiar with the standards set forth by the federal, state, and other regulations that govern patient safety.”
Some common ways hospitals fail as an organization include:
- Failures in training
- Failure to follow protocol or have adequate policies, procedures, and guidelines in place
- Lack of communication, especially when it comes to hospital personnel knowing policies, procedures and guidelines
According to the BTLG article: “Most adverse outcomes are the result of failures that occur at virtually every level within the hospital organization. This is a systemic problem at the hospital and not simply the matter of a ‘bad apple’ nurse who does not have their eye on the ball.”
How dangerous are hospitals?
The California Medical Insurance Feasibility Study conducted in the 1970s set out to answer that exact question and found that doctors and hospitals injured 1 out of every 20 hospitalized patients. Of those, 1 out of 10 patients died from an avoidable injury and 4/5 of the most seriously injured patients were injured due to medical malpractice.
In the 1980s, a Harvard Medical Practice Study published findings that were consistent with the California study ─ the most serious injuries suffered by patients were due to medical malpractice.
Similar results were found with the Utah and Colorado Study conducted in the 1990s, and in 1998 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published To Err is Human: Building a Safer Healthcare System to address the medical malpractice epidemic.
After concluding that the number of Americans who die in hospitals each year as a result of preventable medical errors had been underestimated, the IOM noted that a “comprehensive approach to improving patient safety is needed.”
As a result, President Clinton created a task force shortly to investigate the issue, and that task force came back with a report stating medical errors were a “national problem of epidemic proportion” and that “the rate of error in healthcare is far higher than the rate of error in other industries.”
While some measures were taken to help address this epidemic, the problem continues today. Recent studies show that medical errors are the third most common cause of death in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer.
Medical errors and childbirth
Childbirth is the most common reason Americans are hospitalized, and about 1/3 of all births in the U.S. are done by C-section, making it the most common surgical procedure in the nation. Despite that fact, childbirth is more dangerous for women in the U.S. than any other developed country.
The Joint Commission, which accredits about 77 percent of the nation’s hospitals, notes communication issues, staff competency, orientation and training processes, inadequate fetal monitoring, unavailable monitoring equipment, credentialing/privileging/supervision issues, staffing issues, medication errors and physician availability as organizational failures by hospitals that cause infant death and injury during delivery.
“…the number of errors and complications associated with childbirth is astounding,” the BTLG article states. “The vast majority of stays for both vaginal delivery and C‐section involve at least one complicating condition (91.3 percent of vaginal delivery stays; 99.9 percent of cesarean section stays).”
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “more women die in the U.S. from pregnancy‐related complications than in any other developed country” and “between 2000 and 2014, there was a 26% increase in the maternal mortality rate.”
Simply put, this is a colossal failure by the American healthcare system when it comes to keeping mothers and their babies safe from avoidable harm.
Hospitals as a whole are responsible for mistakes
While doctors and nurses are the ones treating patients, hospital executives have a critical responsibility to ensure patient safety by making sure the hospital meets all standards and regulations.
Some ways hospitals can ensure patient safety include:
- Training and orientation of the nursing staff
- Training and orientation of the physician staff
- Putting into place appropriate policies and procedures
- Ensuring physicians and nurses review policies and procedures
- Enforcement of policies and procedures
- Having available an appropriate number of staff with appropriate training
- Competency testing of physician and nursing staff
- Developing a plan of care for each patient
- Having all systems work together and communicate with one another to protect the patient
- Having an established chain of command
Other health and safety standards that hospitals must meet in order to participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs include:
- There must be an effective governing body that is legally responsible for the conduct of the hospital.
- A hospital must protect and promote each patient’s rights.
- Hospital must develop, implement, and maintain an effective, ongoing, hospital-wide data driven quality-assessment and performance-improvement program.
- Hospital must have an organized nursing service that provides 24-hour nursing services. The nursing services must be furnished or supervised by a registered nurse.
Medical malpractice isn’t just an isolated event
From the floor nurse to the hospital CEO, medical malpractice is often traced back through a series of errors and a breakdown of the system in place at a hospital. When regulations and standards aren’t followed at any level, the hospital itself ─ not just individual doctors and nurses ─ can and should be held accountable for any injuries or harm sustained by patients.
It’s critical to have a system in place that ensures everyone at the hospital ─ from top to bottom ─ follows the standards and regulations that have been established to protect patients, including mothers and their babies.
If you or your baby suffered an injury before, during, or immediately after birth due to medical malpractice at a hospital, you may be entitled to compensation. Visit helpforyourbaby.com for a free and confidential consultation.