Misdiagnosis is leading cause of pediatric malpractice claims

A recent study shows one-third to nearly half of all medical malpractice cases for children are related to diagnosis-related errors. The survey by The Doctors Company shows while the types of claims tend to change over time, infants under age 1 experience the most severe injuries.

The study looked at more than 1,000 claims and was divided into four categories: neonates - children under four weeks old, infants from 2 months to 11 months, 1 to 9 years and those 10 to 17. Diagnosis-related claims were most common in 33% to 44% of all lawsuits, except for neonates.

Research outlines key takeaways

Researchers listed several significant findings from the study, including:

  • Obstetricians accounted for 24% of all claims, the highest among providers
  • Payments were made to claimants in 37% of the cases examined
  • The median damage award was $250,000, while the average expense for defending claims was $100,000
  • Brain injuries resulted in the highest percentage of claims for all four age groups with neonates at 48%, first year at 36%, children 1 to 9 at 15% and teenagers at 11%
  • Children under 1 had the highest death rate at 30%

Diagnosing children can be difficult

Medical experts say it is more challenging to diagnose children than adults for several reasons. The younger the patient, the less likely it is they can express what they feel. Parents can contribute valuable information, but many times fail to share crucial details with their doctor.

In some cases, language barriers can also be an obstacle by making interactions between the doctor and parents difficult. And, communication problems can also lead to a lack of valuable information, such as family medical histories that may point to inherited conditions.

Document everything to defend against medical errors

Developing sound support systems can guard against medical mistakes that can lead to malpractice claims. Chief among them are comprehensive documentation of previous care and structured reminders for vaccinations, medications and other treatment.

Health care organizations must also provide adequate training, especially for high-risk situations. This includes simulations for critical events that often lead to severe injuries. Researchers also say communication is key between parents, doctors and hospitals and clinics.

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