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Improper Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring


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Medical caregivers are required to give all patients equal and complete treatment as demanded by their condition.  This is the standard we hold them to when we entrust them with our lives.  Most people in the healthcare industry entered the field because they wanted to help people, but even the best-intentioned doctors can make mistakes or miscalculations.  When that happens, our team at Goodman Acker P.C. is here to fight for you.

Heart Rate Monitoring May Be the Most Important Indicator of Health During Birth

Hospitals are busy at the worst of times, and the birth ward may seem especially hectic with the constant inflow of patients, movement of personnel and equipment between rooms, and administration of various tests.  Birth is also one of the times when new mothers most need high-level attention from a doctor.  Any number of small changes can put your baby in danger of permanent injury—especially to their brain—during birth.

Monitoring a baby during labor is difficult (and could be very invasive for the mother) but for one thing: the fetal heartbeat.  EKG bands can be placed on the mother’s belly to capture both her and the fetus’ heart rate.  This data provides the doctor with an overview of the pregnancy’s affects on both mom and fetus and can help them decide when intervention is needed.

What Story Does the Heart Rate Tell?

Recently, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development created a fetal heart rate classification system to standardize doctor response to heart rate abnormalities.  Most pregnancies maintain a Category 1 status, which signals that all is proceeding well.  When heart rate patterns hit Category 2, the attending doctor must closely monitor the fetal heart rate and be ready to act.  Category 3 irregularities signal the need for intervention.

Some hospitals have incorporated this or other benchmark-based systems in their practice, reducing the incidence of acidosis in newborns.  Others provide no centralized system of regulation, thereby requiring doctors to work off their experience and best judgement. When this judgement fails, infants and new parents can face life-changing consequences.

A fetal heartbeat should be unpredictable.  Heartbeats that follow a smooth pattern, don’t have jagged highs, and are decelerating signal a high risk of fetal asphyxiation.  A lack of intervention may cause fetal distress and injuries, including brain damage.

New Technology Leads to Worse Results

Heart monitors used to physically draw the fetus’ heart rate pattern on a paper strip. However, innovations have since taken the process digital, leading to the on-screen displays that most of us are now familiar with.  A so-called advantage of the current digital monitors is the doctors’ and nurses’ ability to send the signal to displays across the hospital, saving them the constant back-and-forth between patients—especially during long processes like labor.  This has led to the centralization of the monitoring process; multiple data are sent to a bank of monitors and displayed side-by-side on the screen so the doctor or nurse can keep an eye on all their patients at once.

This is the dream scenario of such a setup…but the results tell another story.  Studies of these centralized monitoring setups have uncovered certain reoccurring issues that may threaten the health of your baby.  Here are a few instances where the new tech has led to new problems.

Less In-Depth Readings Narrower monitor displays only allow doctors to view so much of a fetus’ heartbeat history, which makes it more difficult to spot irregularities or troublesome patterns that occur over long periods of time.  Typical displays allowed at least a half-hour’s history at one glance.  With the new setup, doctors must minimize other patients’ data every time they want to look in depth at another’s.

Split or Lost Attention

Across fields, studies have shown that it’s hard for people to maintain high levels of concentration when performing repetitive or stationary tasks.  The same is true for doctors or nurses on monitor duty.  Rather than moving from room to room as they check in on new patients, those monitoring the signs may, as is natural, find their minds wandering.  Further, most humans aren’t made for “multitasking” in this way.  When one person watches multiple pieces of data, they don’t catch more errors—they catch fewer.

Hold Doctors Accountable for Improper Monitoring

If your baby is showing symptoms of asphyxiation that were clearly preceded by heart rate abnormalities, you may have a medical malpractice case.  Mistakes in the birth ward can have lifelong effects for children and families, and you deserve all the help you can get during this difficult time.  Our team can take care of you, so you don’t have to add another worry to your plate in the process of pursuing compensation.

Contact Goodman Acker P.C. online or call (248) 286-8100 to discuss your options after a birth injury.