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Medical Malpractice Claims Related To Electronic Fetal Monitoring – Personal Injury


Electronic fetal monitoring (“EFM”) is used for most
women during labor. EFM allows the medical providers to see how the
baby is doing in response to the stresses of labor. It provides
important information that the medical team uses to determine many
things, including whether the plan for a vaginal delivery is no
longer a safe option for the baby. This article discusses EFM,
medical malpractice claims involving EFM, and answers common
questions family members may have about EFM if their baby suffered
a birth injury.

Electronic fetal monitoring (“EFM”) is used for most
women during labor. EFM allows the medical providers to see how the
baby is doing in response to the stresses of labor. It provides
important information that the medical team uses to determine many
things, including whether the plan for a vaginal delivery is no
longer a safe option for the baby. This article discusses EFM,
medical malpractice claims involving EFM, and answers common
questions family members may have about EFM if their baby suffered
a birth injury.

What is Electronic Fetal Monitoring?

EFM can monitor the baby’s health during labor by
continuously recording the fetal heart rate. The fetal heart rate
pattern is important to assess because it can help determine if the
fetus is getting enough oxygen during labor and delivery. When a
baby is deprived of sufficient oxygen, the baby can suffer injuries
to his or her organs, including the brain. Brain injuries occurring
during labor and delivery can be permanent, and significantly alter
that child’s life. Cerebral palsy, for example, is a motor
disability that a child can develop if they did not get enough
oxygen during labor and delivery.

EFM not only monitors the baby’s fetal heart rate. It also
monitors and traces the mother’s uterine activity, continuously
showing the mother’s contractions, including how long they last
and how strong they are. The mother’s contraction pattern is
important information that the medical providers need to watch
closely. When a mother has a contraction, it can briefly disrupt
blood flow to the baby, decreasing the amount of oxygen they
receive. While some disruption of the blood flow to the baby is
normal, sometimes a contraction can cause a prolonged disruption of
blood and oxygen to the baby. The medical providers should also
closely monitor the mother’s contraction pattern to make sure
the contractions are frequent and strong enough to deliver the
baby. If they are not, the mother may need medications to augment
labor so the baby can be delivered safely.

For these reasons, the medical providers are required to closely
watch how the baby’s heart rate responds to the mother’s
contractions. If the baby is not responding well to the
mother’s contractions, or the labor more generally, the medical
providers must take action to protect the baby, which may include
abandoning the plan for a vaginal delivery in favor of a Cesarean
section. If the medical providers do not act quickly, or fail to
appreciate the information provided by EFM, they may cause serious
injuries to the mother and/or baby. In that case, the medical
providers may also be guilty of medical malpractice.

Did A Failure to Monitor or Use EFM Appropriately Cause A Birth
Injury?

Unfortunately, there are situations where the medical team fails
to appropriately use or interpret EFM. When this occurs, the
medical providers may be guilty of medical malpractice, and can be
held accountable for the injuries their negligence causes. There
are many examples of cases where medical providers commit
malpractice related to EFM. A few examples are discussed here.

Malpractice can occur if the medical provider implements EFM but
fails to check the monitoring frequently enough to ensure that the
baby can tolerate labor. The frequency with which a medical
provider must review the EFM to assess the baby’s well-being
depends on the situation. But more frequent reviews are required if
the mother is high-risk or given medication to induce or augment
labor. More frequent reviews are also required once the mother
enters the second stage of labor and begins pushing. Typically, the
medical providers are able to assess the EFM strips, showing both
fetal heart rate and uterine activity, in the labor and delivery
room as well as elsewhere in the hospital. Thus, medical providers
should have easy access to this information and should have no
excuse for not watching it closely.

Malpractice can also occur if the medical providers fail to
accurately interpret the EFM. EFM is not easy to interpret, but
medical providers are trained how to do so, and are required to
interpret EFM accurately so that the mother and baby do not suffer
a preventable injury. In some cases, the medical providers fail to
appreciate that the baby is not responding appropriately to the
stresses of labor and allow the labor to progress. If the EFM shows
that the baby is not responding appropriately, but the medical team
allows labor to progress, the baby can suffer injuries.

Another example of medical malpractice related to EFM is where
the medical providers accurately interpret the fetal monitoring
strip, but fail to appropriately act in response to the information
provided by EFM. There are certain patterns medical providers are
trained to look for on the EFM, and when those patterns are
present, a plan needs to be put in place to respond quickly and
appropriately. The response may be providing the mother IV fluids
or supplemental oxygen, or repositioning the mother. If those
measures do not result in a better fetal heart rate pattern, or if
they indicate that the baby is not otherwise tolerating labor, the
medical providers need to quickly recognize it and may need to plan
for an emergency Cesarean delivery. When medical providers fail to
institute these measures in response to worrisome findings on EFM,
they may commit medical malpractice. The medical providers may also
commit malpractice if they delay intervention, or mistakenly
believe that the information provided by EFM suggests that the baby
is tolerating the stresses of labor when, in fact, the baby is not
and suffers an injury.

If You or Your Child Suffered A Birth Injury, What Does That
Mean?

If you or your child suffered an injury at birth, you should
certainly discuss the next steps with the appropriate medical
providers to ensure that you and your child are evaluated and
treated by the appropriate specialist. Some birth injuries may only
be temporary, but others may be permanent and require life-long
medical care.

Birth injuries caused by the failure to appropriately use or
interpret EFM can cause life-long difficulties with everyday
activities, requiring modifications to your or your child’s
schooling, job responsibilities, and leisure activities. It may
also require ongoing therapy to prevent the injury’s impact
from worsening over time. Future activity modifications and therapy
over the course of a lifetime can be very expensive. These injuries
can also cause physical disfigurement and significant emotional
harm to a child or parent, as these injuries may make the child
feel different, and impact his or her social wellbeing.

If you or your baby suffered a birth injury due to medical
malpractice, the physician and delivery team can be held
responsible for the birth injury and all its consequences,
including the costs of future medical care. It is very important to
retain a lawyer who is experienced in handling birth injury cases
and understands how to successfully hold the physician accountable.
The
medical malpractice attorneys
at Morris James are experienced in birth injury
cases, and can assist you and your child in presenting the
strongest claim possible.

When Should I Speak With A Lawyer?

If you or your child has suffered a birth injury, and if you
believe that you or your baby were not monitored appropriately
during your pregnancy or labor and delivery, then you should
consider speaking with an attorney. Given the complexity of
pregnancy and the labor and delivery process, it can be difficult
to determine whether a healthcare provider’s medical
malpractice caused injuries to you or your child. Hiring a medical
malpractice lawyer who has experience handling cases involving EFM
and birth injuries is key to making these determinations, as the
lawyer has the tools and knowhow to investigate your case to
determine whether the medical team committed medical malpractice,
and how to prove such a claim in the court of law. An experienced
birth injury lawyer also knows how to get answers from your
healthcare team, and can make them pay fair compensation for your
and your child’s injuries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.



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