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Failure to diagnose and cerebral palsy often co-occur during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and newborn care. Failure to diagnose premature labor, umbilical cord issues, fetal distress, placenta problems, and more can cause irreversible damage. Depending on the situation, medical mistakes may constitute negligence if your healthcare provider did not provide you with the required standard of care.
Examples of Failure to Diagnose
Human mistakes can and will happen, but when it comes it medical care, especially for infants, it’s crucial that healthcare professionals thoroughly follow the standards of care required of them.
There are numerous reasons that medical experts fail to diagnose health issues. The most common failure-to-diagnose scenarios that occur in infants who develop cerebral palsy include:
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Failure to Detect Fetal Distress
During labor and childbirth or routine pregnancy appointments, your physician is responsible for monitoring your baby’s growth, heart rate, and blood pressure. When an infant is in distress, failure to do so can result in a failure to diagnose preventable or treatable medical issues.
For example, a low fetal heart rate during labor could mean a baby isn’t getting an adequate supply of oxygen. Lack of oxygen can lead to brain damage, ultimately leading to cerebral palsy.
One of the primary reasons a child develops cerebral palsy is a brain malformation or injury that develops before, during, or shortly after childbirth.
The brain injury can affect the infant’s muscle coordination and control, as well as fine motor skills and gross motor skills. This occurs when the baby has damage to part of the brain known as white matter, which can happen when the oxygen supply is reduced.
Failure to Diagnose Premature Labor
Premature labor, also known as pre-term labor, happens when a pregnant woman’s contractions begin before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Having a premature baby poses many health risks. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, premature birth is the “single most important risk factor for perinatal morbidity and mortality.” 
Sometimes, the specific cause of preterm labor isn’t clear. In other instances, medical experts fail to diagnose premature labor and send a mother home instead of monitoring her and the infant’s health.
Further, medical staff could fail to contact the appropriate pediatric and anesthesia experts who can immediately resuscitate and incubate a preterm baby.
In one failure to diagnose case, a mother gave birth to an infant born with numerous medical issues and disabilities after doctors failed to admit her to the hospital. They also failed to provide treatment that would have prevented the baby’s respiratory distress and brain damage.
According to court documents, the woman was 25 weeks pregnant when she went into labor. She told the hospital that this was not her first pre-term pregnancy.
Previously, during a visit with her obstetrician, she was told to receive progesterone shots, which help to prohibit uterus muscle contractions.
At 16 weeks pregnant, the woman went to the hospital after having sharp pelvic pain. A doctor ordered an ultrasound and noticed too much amniotic fluid in her amniotic sac. He also noticed that the woman’s cervix was dilating.
The amniotic fluid caused uterine distension, but the attending physicians sent her home without giving her further instructions. They also failed to give her a progesterone shot.
The woman returned to the hospital at 25 weeks pregnant, complaining of severe abdominal pain. The staff hooked her up to a fetal heart monitoring machine, but they sent her home after three hours.
Two days later, she returned to the hospital with, again with sharp and severe abdominal pain. The doctors ultimately decided to schedule and carry out an emergency C-section. The baby, who weighed one pound at birth, developed respiratory delay, a brain hemorrhage, hearing issues, and developmental delays.
The woman eventually filed a lawsuit against the doctors and hospital after failing to abide by the standard. She won the lawsuit and gained $42.9 million.
Failure to Diagnose Birth Issues Before Childbirth
Doctors do screening and tests prior to childbirth to detect possible birth defects, failure to thrive problems, or any other issue affecting the baby. The standard prenatal screening and tests include:
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound can detect the presence of increased amniotic fluid.
- Maternal blood screen: Maternal blood screening can measure proteins in the mother’s blood to determine if any are abnormally high or low.
- Maternal serum screen: A maternal serum screen can detect if an infant is at risk for certain birth defects, neural tube defects, and chromosomal disorders.
- Anomaly ultrasound: An anomaly ultrasound helps detect birth issues and defects. It’s typically administered later in pregnancy.
- Group B Strep Culture: A Group B Strep Culture test screens for bacteria in the mother’s lower genital tract. A baby can suffer from severe health problems if a doctor fails to diagnose and treat Group B streptococcus (GBS.
If the proper tests and screenings are administered, infants with medical issues have a better chance of not developing further health problems. If a doctor fails to diagnose potential issues, it could lead to the infant developing additional disorders and medical issues.
Additional failure to diagnose issues that can lead to cerebral palsy include:
- Failure to diagnose when a baby is too big for standard delivery
- Failure to diagnose and treat preeclampsia
- Failure to thoroughly review a mother’s medical history, which can lead to failure to diagnose potential fetal issues
- Failure to diagnose umbilical cord issues
- Failure to diagnose jaundice and kernicterus
- Failure to diagnose placenta problems
Doctors and Standard of Care
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has standards of care expected of doctors and hospitals. These standards are put in place to ensure that all mothers and babies are given the best healthcare possible.
When a doctor fails to diagnose an issue and fails to take measures to prevent the medical problems, infants can end up paying the ultimate price. Cerebral palsy, in some instances, could have been prevented if doctors had followed the standard of care required by ACOG.
- Causes and risk factors of cerebral palsy. (2019, September 23). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/causes.html
- The prevention, diagnosis and treatment of premature labor. (n.d.). PubMed Central (PMC).
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3627164/
- Progesterone. (n.d.). Hormone.org | Hormone Health Network.
Retrieved from: https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/progesterone
- Common tests during pregnancy. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine
Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/common-tests-during-pregnancy
- Guidelines for Prenatal Care, Eight Edition. (2017). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Retrieved from: https://www.acog.org/clinical-information/physician-faqs/-/media/3a22e153b67446a6b31fb051e469187c.ashx