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Pittsburgh Medical Malpractice Law Blog

What is Erb's Palsy?

Erb's Palsy is also known as brachial plexus birth palsy, a condition that may occur if an infant's neck is stretched during the childbirth process. Palsy is a weakness, and in the case of Erb's Palsy, a weakness in the upper arm can occur due to nerve damage. A loss of motion may also occur in this condition, which can be be treated in some cases. With parental involvement, some children can recover nearly all motion in an affected arms. However, a Pennsylvania parent faced with a serious instance of Erb's Palsy in a child may wonder about issues such as how the condition occurs and the implications if a child does not recover mobility.

Statistics indicate that this type of birth injury occurs one to two times in every 1,000 births. The severity of the injury affects the options for treatment and recovery. In the least severe cases, the nerve may be stretched but not torn. Such injuries typically heal within three months of occurrence and are referred to as neurapraxia. In neuroma, a more serious stretch injury, some scar tissue may occur, resulting in most but not all movement and feeling being recovered.

Receiving the wrong diagnosis in Pennsylvania

Many situations could result in an incorrect diagnosis, especially in the case of self-diagnosis. Most conditions have similar symptoms to a variety of other conditions, so a medical test could be the only way to determine what the problem is. This does not always result in a diagnosis, however, for certain conditions because they are difficult to diagnose.

Many tests could give a false positive for a condition, so it is important for medical professionals to double-check the diagnosis in some way to avoid providing the wrong diagnosis for the patient's condition. This can even happen during a routine examination or check-up when nothing is wrong with the patient.

Facial nerve palsy due to birth as a medical malpractice issue

Pennsylvania parents may want to learn more about one possible birth complication known as facial nerve palsy, which is caused by damage to the seventh cranial nerve during birth. Birth trauma such as this can cause serious problems throughout the early stages of infancy, but most cases resolve within a few months.

Although there are some causes of birth trauma such as a prolonged pregnancy and use of certain medications that induce labor, the cause of facial nerve palsy due to birth is typically unknown. However, problems during the delivery process may lead to nerve damage that results in the loss of voluntary muscle movement in the infant's face. Most often, the damage occurs in the lower facial nerve and is usually visible when the infant cries.

Disclosing errors to patients

Pennsylvania is one of several states that requires physicians to disclose unexpected outcomes to their patients as part of error disclosure. Many organizations support disclosure, something that physicians in the past were reluctant to do. Statistics show that acknowledging error and offering an apology as well as describing a plan that will not allow it to happen again results in fewer malpractice suits.

Hospitals in the past avoided talking about errors, offering little by way of an explanation about what went wrong and why it happened. Some physicians said they felt ashamed and uncomfortable while others were fearful of a lawsuit. Traditionally, physicians lacked adequate training in this area. Currently, hospitals and other medical groups feel that not disclosing error or admitting fault takes the patient's well-being out of center focus. To rectify this, strategies are being implemented that respond to errors with a proactive approach.

How common are wrong-site surgeries?

Pennsylvania residents benefit from nationwide programs to reduce the incidence of wrong-procedure, wrong-site, and wrong-patient surgeries. Respected agencies and commissions have released national protocols designed to reduce the incidence of such medical errors as much as possible. These programs have been widely successful, and the odds of encountering such an error are exceedingly low.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates the odds of a surgeon operating on the wrong site on the patient, giving the wrong procedure to the right patient or operating on the wrong patient entirely to be in the range of far less than 1 percent. Such surgical errors can be predicted to happen approximately once for every ten years in the life of a typical hospital. In spite of the relative rarity of such events, respected agencies such as the Joint Commission are working to make them even less common.

FDA warns against drug's intravenous use

A safety announcement issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may be of interest for some patients undergoing medical procedures in Pennsylvania. The announcement warns against the intravenous usage of the medication nimodipine. According to the FDA, it received reports of at least 25 medical errors related to the intravenous usage of nimodipine. Four of the patients so affected died as result of the procedure and several others may have suffered grievous injury.

Though the FDA approved the use of nimodipine in 1988, it has taken various efforts to alert medical practitioners of the need to avoid its intravenous administration. Since 2006, there have been boxed warnings and other separately labeled warnings on nimodipine packages that describe the adverse reactions possible with intravenous administration. Despite this, the FDA says that it has continued to receive reports of nimodipine being used intravenously.

Causes that lead to cerebral palsy

Pennsylvania parents might want to learn more about the types of injuries a child could suffer during birth. One such injury is cerebral palsy, which results during or after birth due to abnormal brain development or damage. Those with CP have limited muscle control, and the condition tends to affect children with a low birth weight or who were born prematurely.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 85 to 90 percent of CP cases are congenital. This means that damage to the brain happened before or after the birth process. During deliver, the complications that could occur and thus lead to CP include rupture of the uterine wall, detachment of the placenta or disruption of the oxygen supply due to umbilical cord problems. Additionally, using infertility treatments, giving birth to more than one child and poorly treated Jaundice can increase the likelihood of a child developing congenital CP.

Ebola patient released due to hospital error

Individuals in Pennsylvania may have concerns about Ebola, but it is possible that malpractice should be a bigger concern for patients. In Texas, a man entered a hospital with Ebola on Sept. 25, but he was released because the way the hospital tracked information at intake. Reports suggest that the information passed to the physician did not highlight the patient's recent travel to West Africa. The man returned to the hospital on Sept. 28 and was admitted, but by then, a number of family members had been exposed to possible infection.

Because this hospital did not display the same information to nurses and doctors, the doctor was unaware of the man's recent travel. The hospital then changed its procedure regarding travel history to highlight that information so that medical professionals could make use of it when attempting a diagnosis. At issue in this case was the electronic medical record. While proponents of electronic records argue that they would make care more standardized, other professionals say that they make it more difficult to prioritize and pass on information.

How can cancer be diagnosed?

When medical professionals in Pennsylvania suspect that a patient may have cancer, there are certain steps that should be taken to diagnose it. Typically, an expert will view tissue samples under a microscope in order to make the determination.

In a testing process that is often referred to as pathology, a biopsy is performed. A tissue sample, or a biopsy specimen, is examined under a microscope, and experts take lab tests of cell DNA, RNA and proteins to detect whether the sample is that of a malignant tumor or benign.

When can punitive damages be awarded for medical malpractice?

When a medical malpractice lawsuit is filed in Pennsylvania, the majority of money awarded as damages is considered compensatory. As the name implies, compensatory damages are meant to make up for the additional expenses, pain and suffering or other hardships endured by the patient because of the medical professional's mistake. In certain cases, however, a person may file for punitive damages in addition to the compensatory damages.

The law stipulates strict guidelines for when a person may seek punitive damages. A medical professional can only have punitive damages brought against them in a medical malpractice lawsuit if it can be proven that their error was intentional or that they displayed a particularly high level of wanton indifference to the patient's wellbeing. Simply showing gross negligence is not enough. The physician in question must also be personally responsible for the act.

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